This Family Crime Thriller set in the Midwest is one of the best of recent memory.
Writer/Director John Swab creates a film that is both delivers the goods. The film works as a searing family drama and thrilling crime story.
Ida (Melissa Leo) has navigated her son Wyatt (Josh Harnett) on criminal endeavors since her incarceration for a Bank Robbery years ago. A recent job has brought heat onto Wyatt, his uncle Dallas (Frank Grillo), and their crew. That heat is in the form of brother-in-law, and Police Detective, Collier (George Caroll), and FBI Agent Twilley (William Forsythe). Old family secrets and grudges set the stage for the eventual face-off between two sides of a family that the young Darla (Sofia Hublitz) is in the middle of.
Ida Red separates itself from other crime films of similar disposition with the truly great ensemble cast Swab and casting director Jeremy M Rosen have put together. The trifecta of Leo, Harnett, and Grillo gives the movie the gravitas it needs. Leo is heartbreaking as the matriarch of this shattered family. Grillo brings his charisma to a role that could have been one-note but is definitely not. Harnett continues to become an increasingly interesting actor as he’s aged away from the heartthrob, he was early in his career. Supporting turns by Mark Boone Junior, Beau Knapp, Carroll, and Forsythe are great with more character than most films put into these roles.
The biggest find is Sofia Hublitz as Darla the youngest of the family. Hublitz brings an unadorned honesty to the role. Swab’s character never plays to the typical arc that one would expect and Hublitz brings a quiet conflict to the role. The moments that she shares with Harnett and Leo are some of the best and honest of the film. More impressive is the way that she holds her own with them.
Family crime films often take their shape from films of similar ilk. Swab’s film smartly plays against the comparative norms of the genre. Rather Ida Red takes its cue from the great family dramas of the 1970s, creating something that feels less like a crime thriller and more of a tragedy. There is a slow burn desperation to the way that everything plays out that creates a nervy crime film that rewards. The adroit script always chooses character over action or the exploitative nature of the genre.
That is not to say that Ida Red isn’t without those action set pieces we come to expect from the best of the genre. Swab smartly allows for moments like that throughout the first two-thirds, but it is in the last third where he summons the thunder. The director understands that the characters’ dynamics within this conflicted family. As the heist builds to a crescendo, what truly matters, the emotional pay off beautifully connects with the action.
Ida Red is an elevated piece of crime fiction that shouldn’t be missed.