A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND ***** UK / Ireland / Belgium 2019 Dir: Abner Pastoll. 97 mins
“If you want to get anywhere in this life you have to be a bitch”. So advises tough but loyal mother Jane Brennan to her recently widowed daughter (Sarah Bolger) early on in Abner Pastoll’s exceptional thriller. In an unspecified modern Irish city where everything seems a little lost despite a new political “hope”, Bolger’s grief for a man dismissed by the media and police as a drug dealer runs parallel to her financial woes (and related, routine humiliations at the supermarket).
When a crook-on-the-run (Andrew Simpson) takes refuge at her home and strikes a deal so he can hide his drug stash in her bathroom, Bolger puts herself and her still-traumatised kids in the sights of his sadistic boss (Edward Hogg). There are shades of Dominic Brunt’s equally wonderful BAIT in Pastoll’s deft juggling of intense violence (and the omnipresent threat of violence) with well-judged humour. Bolger may be at the lowest of low points, but the smart, gripping script finds humour in her despair : note the way in which a particularly robust but battery-less dildo provides laughs even in a moment of brutality. Similarly, the casually misogynist Simpson’s commentary on modern TV and his own profession (“What we do isn’t easy!”) and Bolger’s visit to a local hardware store provide welcome levity in the most intense of circumstances. Hogg’s verbose, swaggering, grammar-correcting crime boss is truly terrifying: just as prone to clearing up confusion between similes and metaphors as he is to beat someone to death with a hammer.
The movie, however, belongs to Sarah Bolger in one of the year’s stand-out performances. Patronised by “experts” and tender with her kids, she conveys enormous inner strength as well as the obvious loneliness and vulnerability, while a gruelling scene of corpse disposal that confirms her defiance against all the odds. A measure of her conviction – and the confidence of the film as a whole – is the juxtaposition of a beautifully acted, understated mum-daughter dialogue sequence right before a suitably nerve-wracking final confrontation.
Review by Steven West