I'm Your Woman Rachel Brosnahan

Gangster-wife thriller I’m Your Woman is a new twist on old tropes

Though not without its issues, this crime drama starring Rachel Brosnahan takes a different path.

Gangsters’ wives are often treated as a plot hole in male-oriented gangster films. How could they possibly not know that their husband (usually played by an A-list actor we the audience associate with nefarious underworld dealings) was a bad guy? It’s what the ending of The Godfather — the most iconic ending in the most iconic of gangster films — is all about, and yet there are precious few films that tackle the reverse angle of the gangster’s tale. Sure, the big toplining gangster gets in trouble and has to go into hiding, but what becomes of his wife and kids? More often than not, the wives become criminal players themselves (as seen in the extremely bungled The Kitchen from last year) as a way of fighting back against this newly discovered oppression. In Julia Hart’s I’m Your Woman, however, there’s nothing empowering about being the gangster’s wife, because there’s no time to be empowered when your life’s on the line.

Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is the embittered and lonely wife of Eddie (Bill Heck), a true 1970s bozo who never lets her in on anything. Jean had visions of the American dream when she married Eddie, with the white picket fence and the children and the pie cooling on a windowsill, but instead she spends her days alone at home while Eddie is off doing work he shares no details about. When Jean expresses desire to have children, Eddie just shows up with a baby that Jean has to accept, no questions asked. Asking questions doesn’t really factor into much of their relationship, so when strange men with guns barge into her house in the middle of the night (for her and her son Henry’s “safety”), she doesn’t really question it. As far as she can surmise, Eddie’s in trouble and she needs to be under the protection of his acolyte (or perhaps just acquaintance) Cal (Arinzé Kene), who simply carts her around without giving her much context on what’s going on, or where Eddie might be.

I’m Your Woman is one of the hardest kinds of films to pull off: a thriller in which the main character is privy to absolutely none of the plot machinations that’s also not a pointedly complicated paranoia or supernatural thriller. What’s being hidden from Jean isn’t that complex or unbelievable, but she’s spent her whole life either being shut out or willfully turning a blind eye to everything, and it’s apparently not a skill that she can simply switch back on even when her life is in danger. It’s dramatically rich but narratively slippery, because it essentially forces the movie to be a series of scenes in which Jean is brought from point A to point B and fed extremely limited information. It’s a boon for Brosnahan’s performance, which is much more elastic and subtle than one would expect from the premise, but it also affects the film’s pace, which winds up extremely inconsistent.

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Pitched halfway between a stark, minimalist drama and a cracking thriller, I’m Your Woman’s tonal and rhythmic shifts are its biggest flaws. While Jean’s complete lack of comprehension of events could have an immersive effect, it only serves to sharpen the contrast between the film’s two modes. For the first hour, every “thriller” scene could very well be preceded by a flashing light and “THRILLER MODE ENGAGED” chyron for all the whiplash they induce. Though it sheds light on an oft-ignored aspect of any crime drama, the separation between genre elements isn’t always sharp, and the first hour can be sort of trying.

It certainly picks up steam in the second half, as time gets tighter and Hart gets to flex her directorial muscle in settings outside of diners and the backseats of cars. Though a period piece with all of the ’70s accoutrements one might expect, it’s not a flashy one — subdued music choices and art direction abound, and the film is more likely to show you slushy parking lots and shabby motel rooms than sparkling disco ball excess. (Though there is one crackerjack of a set piece set in a disco, now that I think about it.) It’s difficult to parse what works and what doesn’t about the final product here, because the things that make it sort of a poky thriller are by design. Though it appears fairly conventional on the surface and none of its twists and turns are particularly out of left field, I’m Your Woman is a deceptively complex effort. It may not all work perfectly, but it’s certainly worth the try. ■

I’m Your Woman is on Amazon Prime as of Friday, Dec. 11. Watch the trailer below:

I’m Your Woman by Julia Hart, starring Rachel Brosnahan

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