Ida Red: Robbed of Motivation, by Chase Beck
Ida Red is a crime thriller centered around Wyatt Walker (Josh Hartnett) and the Walker crime family, led by Wyatt’s incarcerated mother, Ida “Red” Walker (Melissa Leo). Wyatt owns and runs an auto repair shop as a front for his and his brother Dallas’ (Frank Grillo) criminal exploits. They mostly do low stakes robberies but their latest heist of a semitruck ended in a murder. As a result, Wyatt and his team have come under increased scrutiny of the police and FBI. The lead officer, Bodie Collier (George Carroll), also happens to be Wyatt’s brother-in-law. So, between the family dynamics and criminal cover-ups, Wyatt finds himself in some figurative quicksand. Or at least, that is what the audience is supposed to assume. The film itself seems to unfold at a relatively stress-free, leisurely pace. There are times where director John Swab tries to ratchet up the tension with some music stings but the events on screen do not gel with the dramatic tone Swab seems to be pushing.
Ida Red is writer/director John Swab’s fourth feature film as director. However, it is the first of Swab’s films to come to my attention. One of his earlier films, Run with the Hunted, won the Audience Award for best narrative feature at the Woodstock Film Festival in 2019. Perhaps due to that success, Swab’s career is on the rise, with two more films currently in pre-production.
There are elements in Ida Red that would seem to be intended to create a chaotic atmosphere. Wyatt is trying to balance his crime career with his dedication to his family. Ida has cancer and seems to be doomed to die in prison, Wyatt’s 16-year-old niece seems bent on juvenile probation and Dallas has a death wish. Harnett seems unwilling or incapable of expressing the necessary desperation to fit the film’s events and Swab’s direction is not aiding him in his efforts.
I chose to review this film because I have, in the past, enjoyed Hartnett’s various performances and I was interested in seeing what he would do here. Sadly, Hartnett is slightly out of his depth. Grillo might be a better match for the Wyatt role but his performance as the unhinged Dallas is so downright sleazy that it is a perfect fit for him. It is a real disservice that Hartnett is saddled with a lot of the responsibility of making this film work. The laconic result of that disservice is this snoozefest of a film. Despite a robust cast, Ida Red is a disappointment
That’s not to say Ida Red is entirely lacking in some quirky appeal. There is a scene set, bafflingly, to Madonna’s “Crazy For You.” Unfortunately, this scene only lasts for about two minutes out of the film’s 111-minute runtime. I also like the filming location. The use of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma during a climactic event in the movie lends the film a level of tangibility that was missing from many other scenes. Ida Red seems beholden to much better crime films and brings to mind Michael Mann’s Heat, Affleck’s The Town, or Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water. While they might not be fair comparisons budget-wise, they all seem to have a heavy influence on Ida Red. Unfortunately, on final analysis, Swab’s film cannot hold a candle to those and seems to be asleep at the wheel.