'Into the Ashes': Film Review

Courtesy of RLJE Films
Not much heat left in these embers.
7/19/2019

Luke Grimes plays a former criminal haunted by his past in Aaron Harvey's rural crime flick.

The few American critics who reviewed Aaron Harvey's 2011 Bruce Willis crime flick Catch .44 were underwhelmed by the first-time helmer's efforts to turn violence and quirks into the Pulp Fiction-like fun he seemed to aspire to. A hint of the Quentin Tarantino influence remains in Into the Ashes, an Out of the Past-like story about a man trying to leave crime behind, but the high spirits are gone: Grim and filled with testosterone, the picture takes its violent parable so seriously it bookends it with talk of Biblical cruelty. A capable cast abets the director, but the film's slow pace and half-hearted perspective shifts don't generate the gravitas that's clearly intended.

Luke Grimes plays Nick, a small-town upholstery worker who wants nothing more in life than to take an occasional hunting trip in between quiet weeknights with his wife Tara (Marguerite Moreau). Unfortunately, years ago he was a crook, and cheated two partners out of a bunch of money. Now that Frank Grillo's Sloan has finished the prison term that betrayal brought him, he and Charlie (David Cade) want to find where Nick is hiding.

While Nick and hunting buddy Sal (James Badge Dale) are out in the woods shooting animals, Sloan finds his new home and winds up killing Tara. Tara's father Frank (Robert Taylor), a cop who always knew Nick was no good, holds him responsible, and soon a nearly-dead Nick is running from police while trying to stalk the men who ruined his life in the straight world.

Grillo, an A-lister on the B-movie scene, is a smart enough actor to search for new attitudes when Harvey hands him a tired bit of cute-villain small talk. (When Sloan catches up to Nick and confronts him with his wife's body, he delays the inevitable by politely asking if there might be some butter-pecan ice cream in the fridge to go with the pie Tara made.) But more often, the film's dialogue and delivery offer dry chunks of studied working-class masculinity. Viewers who suspect Harvey's understanding of the milieu comes mostly from watching other crime pics will decide they're right when a badly wounded man on his back is able to render an upright man unconscious with a single head-butt.

Just as the mouse becomes the cat, with Nick and Sal reuniting to stalk Sloan, the movie's point of view shifts for no detectable reason, experiencing the action secondhand through the work of Sheriff Frank. What might've been a storytelling coup in a Tarantino film serves here only to drain the tension from a story that was already dragging — despite its shout-outs to the epic feats of Samson.

Production company: Michael Bruce Pictures
Distributor: RLJE Films
Cast: Luke Grimes, Marguerite Moreau, James Badge Dale, Frank Grillo, Robert Taylor, David Cade, Brady Smith, Scott Peat
Director-screenwriter: Aaron Harvey
Producers: Robert Ogden Barnum, Eric Binns, Daniel Blanc, David Cade, Aaron HArvey, Jamin O'Brien
Executive producers: Colin Bates, Frank Grillo
Director of photography: John W. Rutland
Production designer: Mark Bankins
Costume designer: Lindsay Zgonina
Editor: Richard Byard
Composer: James Curd
Casting director: Brent Caballero

97 minutes