A Good Woman Is Hard to Find
Sarah Bolger gives a stunning performance in Abner Pastoll’s grim, mean-spirited revenge movie. She plays Sarah, a widowed mother trying to raise two young children in a council house in an unidentified Northern Ireland city. Her husband was recently killed, apparently in a gang-related incident, and her young son Ben (Rudy Doherty), who witnessed his father’s murder, has not spoken since; the police seem unconcerned with investigating his death, and Sarah’s neighbors treat her with disdain, believing her husband was a criminal. Sarah barely scrapes by, with her mother Alice (Jane Brennan), though a relentless nag, providing child care as needed. As bad as the situation is, it becomes far worse when Tito (Andrew Simpson), a scruffy drug dealer, forces his way into Sarah’s house, threatens the family, and takes over the place to hide a stolen stash from local gang boss Leo Miller (Edward Hogg).
Terrified and anxious to protect her children, Sarah reluctantly agrees, employing the opportunity to pry information from her unwelcome guest about her husband’s demise, which she learns was orchestrated by Miller. Things go awry when Ben finds Tito’s stash and uses the packets as playthings. The furious thief attacks Sarah and she fights back, stabbing him (with a vibrator, in a heavy dose of symbolism) and then—in a horrifyingly graphic scene—dismembering his corpse with saws and a hatchet in order to dispose of the remains. By this time Miller, who wields a hammer to extract information about Tito’s whereabouts, has tracked him to her house, and his thugs take aim on her and the children.
She escapes and then transforms herself into a seductive femme fatale to gain entrance to Miller’s hideaway and exact bloody vengeance on him and his minions. Pastoll’s film is essentially a feminist wish-fulfillment fantasy draped in the guise of a gangland thriller, but it is elevated by Bolger, who depicts Sarah’s gradual development from whimpering victim to determined avenger with conviction. A coda shows her turning the tables on those who have snidely reviled her in the past. Her nuanced turn stands in stark contrast with the more crudely histrionic ones of Simpson and Hogg. The former overplays Tito’s grubby menace, while the latter offers little more than snarls and glares, spitting out menacing lines while berating those he is about to brutalize—not only for being reluctant to give him information, but for mistaking a simile for a metaphor. Still, if one can accept the high level of violence, the film has a visceral power that is difficult to ignore. Extras include an audio commentary by Pastoll, the theatrical trailer, a “making of” featurette (15 min.), deleted scenes, an alternate opening and outtakes (16 min. total), a set visit (4 min.) and a featurette on shooting practice (2 min.). A strong optional purchase. (F. Swietek)