A Good Woman Is Hard to Find [Fantasia International Film Festival Review]

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find has the perfect marriage of a director who knows how to generate suspense and an actress capable of delivering a knockout, three-dimensional performance. The director is Abner Pastoll, whose Road Games was one of 2015's most memorable indies. The actress is Sarah Bolger, who was first noticed in Jim Sheridan's acclaimed In America and later found great television success on The Tudors and Once Upon a Time. Together, they cook up an electrifying thriller about a nice person forced into a horrific situation. The film screened at the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Bolger plays Sarah, a widow trying to hold on for her two young children. Son Ben (Rudy Doherty) has been particularly traumatized, becoming selectively mute since seeing his father knifed to death. Trouble finds Sarah in the form of Tito (Andrew Simpson), a neighborhood lowlife who has just ripped off the local drug kingpin, Leo Miller (menacingly portrayed by Edward Hogg). He busts into Sarah's house and stashes the drugs in the bathroom, threatening to harm her or the kids if she rats him out. Leo eventually puts the pieces together, placing Sarah in great danger. The sole way to survive is to take matters into her own hands, which she does shrewdly and chillingly.

The story pulls us in right away by making Sarah's loss feel real. There are rumors that her husband was a dealer himself. Although she outwardly rejects them, we can tell she has secret doubts. Could the man she loved have been something other than what he seemed? It is also apparent that Sarah is emotionally hanging on by a thread. Thanks to Bolger's sympathetic performance, we understand why Tito is able to threaten her so fully. The cops have done nothing to look into her husband's murder, and she doesn't want to lose one of her kids, so the fear is paralyzing.

With that in place, A Good Woman Is Hard to Find proceeds to ratchet up the tension. Sarah's fear snaps, and it snaps because there is no other choice. Additional complications arise that make the peril greater. Tito is quite serious about his threats. Leo is a psychopath who will clearly kill anyone in order to get his drugs back. Doing nothing is a guaranteed road to tragedy. The only way out is to push through the fear, to take actions Sarah would never be capable of were she not in such dire straits.

Again, this is what makes the film so effective. Pastoll, working from Ronan Blaney's tightly-plotted screenplay, captures how the walls close in on his heroine in nail-biting fashion. Bolger makes Sarah's leap into drastic problem-solving mode totally authentic. She doesn't become some B-movie, mad-as-hell-and-not-gonna-take-it-anymore figure, she becomes someone driven by desperation who sees no other option.

A fascinating conundrum is at the center of A Good Woman Is Hard to Find. Morality is not a viable way to deal with deeply immoral people. They don't respond to it. Sarah consequently has to do immoral things to save herself and her family. But that is, of course, as moral an intention as you could ever find. That idea provides intellectual suspense to match the more physical kind. You don't often find a movie that grabs you in so many ways. This one does, and it shouldn't be missed.

out of four

A Good Woman Is Hard to Find is unrated, but contains adult language, drug content, and strong violence. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.