Tomato Red – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by Juanita Wilson
Writers: Juanita Wilson (screenplay), Daniel Woodrell (novel)
Stars: Julia Garner, Jake Weary, Anna Friel
Sammy Barlach (Jake Weary) has just been released from jail. He moves around in the half light of what appears to be an empty, luxurious house. But he comes across the red-headed Jamalee Merridew (Julia Garner) and her brother, tuxedo clad, Jason (Nick Roux). They are also intruders. All three of them are escaping from the realities of their lives and their meeting in this place of wealth is a metaphor for their aspirations. Sammy is a drifter while Jamalee dreams of Hollywood and Jason wishes he lived in a world of tuxedos. The reality is that Jamalee and Jason live in a trailer just behind where their fond-of-the-bottle mother, Bev, has her beat-up house in Venus Holler, Oklahoma. Even by the mean standards of Venus Holler, the Merridews are low on the social scale. As Sammy has nowhere better to go, he hooks up with them and moves in. Apart from their striking youthful looks, Jamalee, Jason and Sammy are socially ill equipped to surmount the problems, such as corrupt police officers and good old fashioned prejudice, which surrounds them in this tired, long forgotten, town.
The film moves for the first half at a slow pace, complementing the stasis of Venus Holler but then the prejudice and corruption of the town kicks in and the Merridews and Sammy show their mettle. However they are but pawns in a greater scheme.
Their sense of powerlessness is underlined by the sweeping wide camera shots of the vast empty scenery in which Venus Holler lies. The immediate world seems to be a large and hostile space for Sammy and the Merridews. While Jake Weary gives a fine performance as Sammy, the character is not one of much complexity. Julia Garner is a sort of femme fatale figure but it is difficult to believe that her dreams will ever obtain much reality. It is Anna Friel as the mother who gives the performance which provides substance to the entire film. She has worked out a modus vivendi in relation to her place on the social rung and knows how to defend it.
While the elegance of the camera shots make this film engaging, it is not sufficient to lift it. The slowness of the first half is never entirely redeemed by the more energetic second.