Crime films are often masculine, side-lining women characters in favor of focusing on male criminals and their actions. However, female characters can often make an impact. I think of Jane Fonda in Klute or Lorraine Bracco in Goodfellas. This character may be off to the side but what happens when they are the focus. Julia Hart's I'm Your Woman explores this as its central story.
Hitting Prime Video today, the film recognizes the wealth of interesting possibilities from coming from this unique approach. Set in the 1970s, Jean (Rachel Brosnahan) is the wife of Eddie (Bill Heck). Eddie is your standard thief, or at least Jean thinks. so. As I'm Your Woman opens, Eddie brings Jean a baby. Jean wants to ask a wealth of questions but knows her place in this world dominated by men. She and Eddie have tried to get pregnant with no luck. Then Eddie goes missing. Jean is woken in the middle of the night by an associate of Eddie who tells her she has to leave. She is forced on the run, guided by men who refuse to answer her questions.
Eddie's obviously done something disastrous. Cal (Arinzé Kene), a friend of Eddie's, is tasked with guiding her to safety. She must escape those who are looking for her husband. Cal is clearly a better man than Eddie. One gets the sense he yearns to leave this life. He gets emotionally involved in Jean's situation. Jean learns that she is going to have to start taking control of her life. She can no longer be told by men what to do.
The 70's setting first deceives the modern politics at play in the film. This is an era where we accept the misogyny rampant as it is. However, director Hart has a more direct aim at today's society. From the precise design of costumes by Natalie O'Brien to Bryce Fortner's amber cinematography, the period is beautifully rendered. The soundtrack is more telling of the film's intent. Aretha Franklin, a known voice for the strength of a woman in a man's world, dominates the soundtrack.
The film not only explores gender politics but racial. Cal is black and Jean is white. Their partnership isn't without tense moments, one in particular with a police officer. Jean has never been on her own. Watching her take control of her life is thrilling. Her character arc is rich and Brosnahan gives a fully convincing performance of Jean's transformation. Juggling new motherhood with a realization that her husband was a bad man and has likely left her alone, Jean is forced to take action. This leads to a tense and satisfying third act. The unique thing about I'm Your Woman is how it gets there. A lesser film would play this tale in a pulpier fashion. Instead, Jean stumbles towards her strength. She can be an infuriating character at times but this makes her end state all the more convincing. Kene is fantastic as Cal, giving him layers of kindness and decency that battle the tougher exterior he must maintain.
When Cal's wife Teri comes into play, the film further makes its focus on race and gender clear. Hart never pushes an agenda rather letting these politics arise naturally from the characters and the situations they are in. As Teri, Marsha Stephanie Blake nearly steals the film. I can imagine her as the lead just because Blake plays her so smart and in control. Teri could have easily been a one-note character needed to move the plot along. The film is better for having such a fierce performance from Blake.
What a refreshing film I'm Your Woman is. The crime life of women in the 1970s would be bleak and is often marginalized. The film takes on the racial and gender politics of this story smartly. The acting is fantastic and the style of the film is sumptuous. If I have one gripe, the pacing is a little off in the middle act. This hardly hurts the film though.