blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Ida Red (2021, John Swab)

I don’t think I’d ever have foreseen the Heartland Family Crime Saga genre. Or how it basically employs every white actor who isn’t in a Marvel movie (currently) or once tangentially appeared in some East or West Coast Crime Saga. For example, I didn’t recognize George Carroll from his Ben Affleck Boston Crime Sagas. And Melissa Leo’s proving you don’t have to be a British dude to earn off that single Oscar win.

Ida Red is an Oklahoma City Crime Saga; it’s hard not to imagine writer and director Swab feeling very Michael Mann-y for the big shootout, which involves the city’s shockingly dull downtown Underground. The music in the first half is mostly a riff on Tangerine Dream’s Thief score, so I’m sure Swab can talk a lot of Mann trivia. Can he turn it into a good movie?

No, but at least the actors don’t have to be embarrassed by their participation. Though you can see the clock running down on Leo’s contract, she doesn’t rush her big scene, and she does manage to make Swab’s wanting monologue work, but she keeps a brisk pace. She’s basically just playing a riff on Margo Martindale from “Justified.” Swab doesn’t have anything original to do. He just strings together lifts from other movies and sets them in Oklahoma City. It’s shocking the state underwrites their citizenry being portrayed as, at best, sociopaths. Everyone in the movie’s a piece of shit. You’d think the Oklahoma Film and Music Office would hold off on the subsidies unless there’s a positive role model.

Though it’s Oklahoma, so what do they consider positive. The whole movie’s just waiting for Carroll to get arrested for going to the Capitol riot.

Carroll’s the local sheriff, who’s not very good at his job. The movie starts with federal agent and professional bad movie check-casher William Forsythe teaming up with Carroll. See, Carroll’s in-laws are the local crime bosses. Leo’s in prison, running the thing, with son Josh Hartnett and her dead husband’s brother Frank Grillo doing the legwork. Hartnett’s got a used car lot, and no one wanted him to get into the crime family business, but when Leo went to prison, lots changed. That used car lot is the extent of Hartnett’s personality. He’s less violent than Grillo, but Grillo’s a vicious psychopath. Also, apparently an avid male rapist, but that detail’s only in the first act when the film’s trying to flex its homophobia for the Redbox audience. It takes until halfway through to establish the real crime bosses of Oklahoma City are Black people pretending to be upstanding citizens, and the crackers just do what they say. It’s actually less racist than I was expecting but more homophobic. Not sure about the misogyny because women are only meaningful if they commit crimes.

Deborah Ann Woll, married to Carroll, and Hartnett’s older sister and in the movie for even less time than Leo, is anti-crime. She resents Hartnett and Grillo looking down on her relationship with Carroll, which is basically her being a housewife, silently watching TV with Carroll, and being a terrible mom to Sofia Hublitz. Hublitz is the fifteen-year-old troublemaker who’s got too much of the family blood not to be a rabble-rouser. Hublitz and Hartnett are pals but only for the purposes of the film. There’s no depth to their relationship, which is fine; there’s no depth to their characters either.

Swab’s direction is fine. He and cinematographer Matt Clegg screw up the third act—including badly slowing down the establishing shots in Oklahoma City—but otherwise, it looks fine. John David Allen’s editing is easily the technical win. Except for the swipes. They do swipes like it’s Star Wars. David Sardy’s music—Tangerine Dream-lite or not—is acceptable. Ida Red’s not an inadequate production.

Acting… Hartnett’s fine. He holds it together when he doesn’t have a single character motivation. Grillo’s showier, but it’s just as empty. They’re about even. A better script would’ve been about them and not shoe-horning in Carroll or Hublitz. Hublitz is middling. Woll’s middling. Forsythe’s embarrassing but fine; he really needs to sell his likeness to a CGI company so they can just make him a digital asset. I mean, sure, the writing’s terrible on his aged super-cop thing, and it’s not like he gets an iota of energy off Carroll, but still. Why make him show up when you could just do a digital standee?

Leo’s okay. Mark Boone Junior’s okay. Beau Knapp’s almost good. The writing gets him. Ben Hall’s got a more prominent part than his acting can handle.

It all could be worse. And it’s definitely of note if you’re a Michael Mann aficionado and want to see Swab artlessly mimic him.

Hartnett, Grillo, Leo, and Junior should try doing a good movie together.

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