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Review: A Good Woman Is Hard To Find – “A brilliantly and brutally effective crime thriller”

As blood quietly cascades down the plughole – as seamless as water off a duck’s back – we meet a weathered and world-weary woman. Her name is Sarah, and she’s grown very tired of your nonsense.

Echoing the angered social realism of Ken Loach, by way of the confrontational pulp of Abel Ferrara, director Abner Pastoll has devised a lethal, adrenaline-spiked cocktail with his ferociously impressive film. A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is a rare beast; a lean, mean and gritty slice of life, tightly bound by an unforgettable central performance. It might be slight, and it may be small, but good Lord does it make a powerful statement.

Sarah (played exquisitely by Sarah Bolger) is the epitome of “down on her luck”. Recently widowed, and mourning the loss of her late husband, the twenty-something single mother is now tasked with caring for and raising her two young, fatherless, children. In one of the film’s most devastating sequences, Sarah visits her local supermarket, with a list penned precisely to a figure she can afford. She just needs to cover the essentials – nothing more, nothing less – but that’s much easier said than done. Early on, the film hammers home that this is a particularly potent display of motherhood; urban, working-class. It isn’t showy, or stuffy, rather painstakingly honest.

If things couldn’t get any worse for Sarah, screenwriter Ronan Blaney twists the knife a little more when a scruffy, feral thief named Tito (Andrew Simpson) violates her home. He charges in and holds her finite, fractured sanctuary hostage, using it as a safe house to stash his cocaine haul which he brazenly stole from local gangsters. Quickly, an emotionally shaken Sarah realises that perhaps Tito’s links to the sordid underbelly, which pulsates throughout this microcosm of Ireland, could be useful. You see, the death of her late husband – a victim of brutal murder slain in front of his young son, Ben (Rudy Doherty), rendering him mute – is still very much unsolved. Perhaps now the sordid secrets will start to unravel, and Sarah will show she was the wrong wife, mother, and woman to mess with.

The first act of A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is perhaps the scariest horror film of the year in its own right. It lacks the blood, guts and gore of the latter stages; instead amplifying a deeply unsettling and upsetting atmosphere. You really feel the underpinning of a broken, war-torn young woman – one trodden on by society, with each passing day stepping her further into the ground. The police tell her to “let sleeping dogs lie” when she questions developments in her husband’s case. A repugnant shelf-stacker at her local supermarket lays on crude comments thick-and-fast. Her children test the very fibres of the tattered remains of her emotional core. It feels as though Sarah’s environment is suffocating her at every opportunity; tightening its grip, closing in the walls, cocooning her in its eternal blackness.

But unlike some genre films, when the brakes are removed, and we accelerate full-throttle into claret-sodden chaos, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find never once loses its grip on character or tone. Sarah is not liberated like some kind of council estate vigilante, nor are her actions (extremely gruesome at that) ever glamorised or held in high regard. She, like the audience, is often disgusted and distressed by what is regrettably necessary in order for her voice to be heard. It is a beautiful commitment to a complex, intricately layered protagonist; one who bares many shades, and spans a diverse morality spectrum.

It comes as no surprise then, that Bolger’s performance is absolutely spectacular. In fact, this author would argue it’s among the best leading screen performances of 2019, and deserves to be held in high regard once the year draws to a close. She is the core of everything Pastoll and Blaney provide here; our warped tour guide, our moral compass, our social reflection. Sarah is a lovingly textured and detailed character creation, embodied by an actress of immense screen presence and control. Pastoll has previously stated that Bolger was the sole actress he could envision for his leading role, and it’s easy to see why, because she was born for this.

Suspense is harnessed supremely throughout the supple 97 minute duration, too. We are held tighter than a straight-jacket as Sarah seemingly looks down the barrel of a gun when she dips her toe into the inky waters of drug dealing cartels, and knee-snapping mobsters. There are several moments of heart-in-mouth tension throughout, and a catalogue of terrifically satisfying twists which keep the film’s pace and rhythm rolling with breakneck precision. Equally, there are some devilishly funny lashings of black humour here, too. If you frequent Irish cinema, you’ll know that finding laughs in the most unsavoury places is common practice. Blaney’s whip-smart screenplay ensures these gags are executed with the right amount of bile and bite to really cement the film’s aura.

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find arrives in select cinema screens across the United Kingdom in a particularly saturated week. A good job then, that it is also available on-demand, because demanding this excellent picture is. Pastoll’s bite-size yet boisterous flick is a ruthless, urgent, and unforgettable audio-visual assault. A sensational star performance from Bolger, and a clinical, razor-sharp approach to tone, ties up what is a brilliantly and brutally effective crime thriller. Miss it at your peril.

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find opens in UK cinemas & On Demand from Friday 25th November courtesy of Signature Entertainment.

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