Ida Red, 2021.
Written and Directed by John Swab.
Starring Josh Hartnett, Frank Grillo, Melissa Leo, Sofia Hublitz, Deborah Ann Woll, George Carroll, Beau Knapp, William Forsythe, Mark Boone Junior, Nicholas Cirillo, Billy Blair, Ben Hall, and John Swab.
Ida “Red” Walker may not survive her terminal illness while incarcerated for armed robbery. She turns to her son, Wyatt, for one last job and a chance to regain her freedom.
Characters don’t need to be likable or morally pure to be interesting or worth backing, but there needs to be a reason to care. With Ida Red, writer and director John Swab (who also released the junkie rehab center takedown Body Brokers earlier this year) somewhat throws viewers into the thick of things, forcing us to piece simple enough things together but without any driving motivation or engagement. Eventually, the reasoning behind this lack of information is made clear, but at the cost of a rather bland narrative.
In the late 2000s, Ida Red follows the Walker family, led by the titular Ida (Melissa Leo with barely anything to do, which is also not a good sign considering every character’s story arc relates to her in some way). Law enforcement describes her as the female Jimmy Hoffa, running a criminal empire until her husband was murdered in a botched bank robbery that led to her sentencing for life. Now, she is suffering from a terminal illness, as the rest of her family ruthlessly fights to get her parole so that she can live out her final days in relative peace.
Ida is frequently visited by her son Wyatt (Josh Hartnett) and given medication to deal with her pain. She also tasks Wyatt and his uncle Dallas (Frank Grillo) with jobs here and there, although the plan is to get the matriarch of prison and everyone out of the game. Ida has never met her granddaughter Darla (Sofia Hublitz), a problematic teenager usually sent home from school for bad behavior such as drinking alcohol and generally getting involved with the wrong crowd, including an equally delinquent love interest. Darla also doesn’t get along much with her mother, Jeanie (Deborah Ann Woll), who happens to resent Ida and would prefer if her daughter never met her grandmother. Naturally, the testosterone-fueled uncles prove to be an enabling influence on her poor behavior, whereas she doesn’t have much of a relationship with her policeman father, Bodie (George Carroll).
If you have already lost track of this expansive family tree, don’t worry because characters will break things down in real-time. Meanwhile, Wyatt and Dallas are in the process of eliminating leads after a sideways truck robbery for more of Ida’s medication. Frank Grillo charmingly mimics a cowboy while murdering associates in cold blood for most of the running time, possibly the only entertaining character in Ida Red. Elsewhere, the relatives attempt to work the system however they can to get Ida released. In between all that, Darla learns some tough lessons about boys while becoming enamored with the idea of becoming a robber like the men she idolizes.
The results are one of those cases where while there’s nothing to slander regarding the talent in front of the camera (there are plenty more welcome character actors here such as William Forsythe and Mark Boone Junior), and there are one or two competently shot and suspenseful shootouts (not shy on some crowd-pleasing blood splatter, either), the story is never engaging and lacks urgency. So little is known about these characters and why they are worth investing in that there’s almost no purpose or stake in how the situation shakes out. Ida Red is decidedly plot-focused, but the plot hinges on a reveal that doesn’t elevate the story in any meaningful way because none of the characters have been adequately developed. So, in the end, a host of familiar and likable veteran actors simply have nothing to do. All of that is without acknowledging the nonsensical ending.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com