Tomato Red is a touching, hopeful and ultimately tragic film that explores the aspirations of a “white trash” family living in the town of Venus Holler, Oklahoma. The story begins with Sammy Barlach, a drifter and part-time criminal in his mid-20s, whom we meet as he gets out of prison for presumably robbing a liquor store. Sammy is the narrator of this movie and, although it is never specified, one gets the feeling that he is narrating these events for a reason, that something bad is going to happen that he has to explain.
Sammy gets a cleaning job, goes to a party with a bunch of strangers, takes Crank and ends up breaking into a large house where he meets siblings Jamalee and Jason. He soon discovers that they are also intruders, who live on the “scummy side” of town. They offer him a job as their “protection” and, as he has nowhere to go, he moves into their home and gets involved in their lives.
Jamalee, the girl with tomato red hair, is an aspirational dreamer who refuses to accept her lot in life. She dreams of Palm Springs, beaches and tuxedos, and she even breaks into affluent houses in the neighbourhood for practice at the kind of life she hopes to lead. Julia Garner gives a natural, soft spoken and almost child-like performance, which helps Jamalee become instantly believable and sympathetic. Jake Weary is strong and authentic in his portrayal of the tough, unambitious but ultimately well meaning Sammy. Anna Friel also gives a memorable performance as Jamalee’s cynical and world-weary mother, Bev, and succeeds in making a potentially unlikable character very human and relatable.
Tomato Red features a strong soundtrack that helps to enhance the emotions within the film. The background shots of the surrounding hills and countryside are also effective in giving the audience a sense of scale, a reminder that the heroes of this tale are, in the eyes of the world at large, insignificant. This movie may well leave viewers sad and exhausted, but it is also an impressive and realistic portrayal of people who often don’t get to have their stories heard.
Tomato Red is released nationwide on 24th February 2017
Watch the trailer for Tomato Red here: