70s paranoia meets first-time parental jitters in Julia Hart's tense, subversive and masterfully-directed crime drama
It’s a rare pleasure to encounter a film that feels like it should make superstars out of everyone involved, both in front of and behind the camera, but that’s exactly what Julia Hart’s I’m Your Woman offers. This is Hart’s fourth film and by far her most accomplished, with the sort of tonal control and thrilling stylistic swagger that marks out a truly exciting director, matched by a cast giving revelatory performances – not to mention top-notch music and art design.
A pulpy throwback noir, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m Your Woman was based on some hard-boiled ‘70s novel, such is the skill with which it captures not only the aesthetic, but also the cinematic sensibility of that decade. Bored housewife Jean (Rachel Brosnahan), taking care of an adopted baby that her criminal husband Eddie (Bill Heck) acquired through mysterious means, finds herself thrown way in over her head after Eddie kills a powerful mob boss and she has to go on the run with Eddie’s enforcer Cal (Arinze Kene).
It’s a plot that reveals itself slowly, as layers upon layers of mob conspiracies pile the pressure on Jean, who has to manage looming danger, constant paranoia, and the struggles of a first time parent all while being almost completely in the dark. The witty and ambitious script, co-written by Hart and her husband, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz, melds typically opaque noir stylings with the lack of control and agency that married life has offered to Jean, which proves to be a perfect match.
Hart converts this potent, thrilling combo in to some terrifying set-pieces (a midnight home invasion in particular ratchets the tension up to near-unbearable levels). Bryce Fortner’s restless, anxious camera work puts us squarely in Jean’s headspace until even something as innocuous as an elderly neighbour bringing over a casserole feels suspicious, an oppressive atmosphere hammered home by Aska Matsumiya’s wonderfully ominous score.
Brosnahan does sterling work as Jean, slowly transforming from damsel in distress to a steely heroine protecting her family at all costs (I’m Your Woman almost functions as an origin story for a more typical noir femme fatale), and Kene is excellent support as Cal. The pair have great chemistry, finding more vulnerable and intimate moments in between the car chases and brutal shootouts – Hart is a dab hand at old-school action scenes. There isn’t a weak link amongst the cast (even the baby is amazingly well-behaved), from the punchy leading performances to some perfectly cast one-scene wonders.
They’re helped by the immaculate design work that immerses you deep into a ‘70s East Coast winter, from the very good coats to the very bad food, all wrapped in a freezing cold colour palette. It’s such a well-put-together film – look out for sublime little touches like how much louder the guns seem in Jean’s inexperienced hands than in Cal’s – that the little imperfections stick out that much more jarringly.
Though these problems are rare, there is some noticeably clunky exposition dotted throughout. It’s hardly a dealbreaker when the end product is still so satisfying, but these moments do drag you out of the story, and it takes a little longer to readjust to the film’s rhythms each time the spell is broken. They feel like the product of a slightly overzealous edit, and with five or ten more minutes on the clock, I’m Your Woman could have perhaps ascended from “excellent” to best of the year” status.
As it stands, mere excellence will have to do for I’m Your Woman – a brassy and entertaining thriller that also has some smart, subversive things to say about race and gender in the crime genre. Julia Hart guides this woman on the run tale with the utmost care, confidence, and control, embracing the genre’s best tropes and updating the more frustrating ones, making for a period piece gangster thriller that, against all odds, feels genuinely fresh.
I'm Your Woman is now showing in select cinemas. It will be available to stream on Amazon Prime from 11 Dec.Where to watch