Star Rating:

Tomato Red

Director: Juanita Wilson

Actors: Jake Weary, Nick Roux

Release Date: Friday 3rd March 2017

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: Canada minutes

Just out of prison, Sammy (Weary) finds himself adrift, bouncing around dreary backwater towns in search of easy work and a cold beer. Bored and stoned one night, he breaks into a mansion where he is accosted by red-headed Jamalee (Garner) and Jason (Roux) Merridew. It turns out they too have broken in and, seeing a kindred spirit in Sammy, offer him lodging and board. Moving into their modest trailer park, Sammy finds the family, headed up by matriarch Bev (Friel), he's been looking for. But when gigolo Jason is found drowned in a nearby lake the familial bonds threaten to fall apart…

Adapted from Daniel Woodrell's novel, Tomato Red doesn’t boast the same stripped back and focussed narrative of Debra Granik’s 2010 take on his Winter’s Bone. It’s a far looser affair with the aforementioned drowning not occurring until the midway point; up until then we’re introduced to its seedy characters and director Juanita Wilson (As If I Am Not There) certainly gives it socks with regards to the details of this world, right down to the frayed seatbelt held together by duct tape.

A character study, Wilson hopes the dynamics of this family – Sammy is attracted to both Jamalee, who urges him to want better for himself, and Bev, while Jason has the hots for Sammy – will be enough to keep things ticking over before the plot belatedly kicks. Weary's narration, used sparingly, taps into the mindset of an ex-con attempting to go straight but the bias against him always pulls him back to his old ways ("Kinda makes you wanna be as bad as they think you are.") He laments the rigmarole he has to go through to apply for a job knowing in his heart there isn't a chance he'll get one; later, Jamalee tries for a waitress gig in a local country club but bad interview leads to a class war showdown.

However, there's just not enough going on in its opening half. Weary struggles to convince as the former hard case keeping his natural instinct for violence in check. It's Anna Friel that catches the eye as the world-weary Bev, while local sheriff William (a terrific Douglas M. Griffin) could have a film of his own.