Great Britain

Review: Reorienting the crime drama in 'I'm Your Woman'

When it's at its best, “I'm Your Woman” feels like you've slipped through a trap door, revealing a hidden pathway in an old genre apparatus. Everything looks familiar — this is a '70s-set crime drama with all the usual trappings of shootouts, safe houses and polyester — but you're seeing it from a different perspective The camera doesn't stick with the usual characters. It has other interests.

“I'm Your Woman," which debuts Friday on Amazon Prime Video, is directed by Julia Hart, who also wrote the script with her husband, the producer (and Oscar flub hero ) Jordan Horowitz. Rachel Brosnahan ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel") stars as Jean, the kind of woman typically relegated to bit character in more masculine dramas.

She's sitting in their suburban home when her husband Eddie (Bill Heck) comes home and presents a new baby the way someone might unveil a new toaster. “Who is that?” Jean says. “He's our baby,” he answers, beaming. We get no more information than she does, as the film immediately drops us into the disorientation of Jean's world as the kept woman of a man we soon learn is some kind of gangster. But even Jean doesn't seem to know much about what he does.

Instead of Eddie coming home one night, Jean is roused by a knock at the door. The man, Cal (a very good Arinze Kene), explains men are after Eddie, and soon will be looking for Jean, too. They have to go. Whatever Eddie did or whoever his pursuers are remains, like Jean's own hazy understanding, in the distant background. Instead, the film rigorously stays with her as she and the baby are plunged into a loosely connected underworld meant to shield her from whatever trouble is after her. Eventually, she'll reach for a gun, herself.

Hart's schematic framework is a worthy and intriguing one, yet “I'm Your Woman” struggles to turn thesis into drama. Jean slowly transforms into a more conscious, decision-making woman but her character's psychology doesn't fill out. Even with growing independence, Jean remains a perplexingly passive genre fragment in a narrative that never comes into focus — though it continues to compellingly bring in elements usually kept at bay in the crime film, like family and race. It's also possible that Brosnahan, so identifiable already as the unflinching Midge Maisel, is too charismatic and clever to convince us otherwise.

Hart has spoken about how she was pulled to make “I'm Your Woman” by wanting to follow Diane Keaton in “The Godfather” or Tuesday Weld in “Thief.” It's a tantalizing concept, one that “I'm Your Woman” comes close to achieving. Hart, gifted as a filmmaker rich in both texture and ideas, has already skipped around in genre, often reorienting it in the process. Her 2019 sci-fi film “Fast Color” told a human-scaled superhero story about three women in a family with superhuman powers. It will be exciting to see what genre she tackles — and potentially remakes — next. In the meantime, I wouldn't mind knowing where that baby came from.

"I'm Your Woman,” an Amazon Studios release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence and language. Running time: 120 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.

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