Into The Ashes is a taut thriller about a former criminal named Nick (Luke Grimes) whose sins come back to haunt him after his wife (Marguerite Moreau) is killed by his former (and just released from jail) partner in crime (Frank Grillo). Robert Taylor (Longmire) is Frank Parson, a sheriff who mourns his daughter’s death and is also determined to bring Nick and his ex-crew members to justice. Below is my interview with writer/director Aaron Harvey (The Neighbor), as he talked about why Into The Ashes isn’t your average B-level feature and why The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a “great” movie.
This is more than your average B-movie/genre film, and while there is joy within that level of storytelling, you wanted to go a bit deeper with the material. Can you talk about taking that extra leap with Into The Ashes?
I appreciate that. I’m glad you picked up on that. As you said, there’s nothing wrong with some great B-movies. I love a lot of them. But this movie, most specifically for me, was how can I amplify this genre idea that I love?
This film was always about these two characters (Nick and Frank) rectifying their relationship with each other and coming to terms with each other over this shared tragedy and how they deal with this in their own ways. And then putting that against a genre backdrop is always fun and interesting and trying to give it a little bit more to say than just the typical straight ahead revenge film.
Was it a challenge finding the visual set-ups for your movie, because the stark locations also serve as a big part of your story’s universe.
100%. I could not agree with you more. The regional, specific, Southern setting that we found was exactly what I was thinking of when I was putting it on the page. We started initially scouting in New Orleans when we were first looking around and then somebody suggested – I wasn’t really finding what I wanted there in terms of the look and the aesthetic – and somebody suggested we look at Alabama.
We ended up driving over to Birmingham and the surrounding area. Once I started getting out into these towns and the countryside and seeing physically what we were playing with, I (was thinking) ‘Oh this is definitely it.’ Capturing that essence and feeling of the town, (especially since) it is kind of a character itself in the movie, was super important.
I got super lucky that most of the locations were very amenable to us filming. The aesthetic component of it counted heavily for me. It’s all part of the feeling of the movie. I was very lucky.
I’m a huge James Badge Dale fan. Can you talk about casting him, as well as your lead Luke Grimes in the film?
Ditto. I’m a massive James Badge Dale fan. To be totally honest, my biggest win of the film was getting him to do the movie because I just absolutely love him to death and he’s always somebody that I’ve admired and had on the radar. So that was wonderful.
But in casting the role specifically for the lead, I had created a list of actors who I thought were interesting and potentially (attainable) and realistic for the size of this film. What I was trying to do with this film and Luke Grimes was floating around on top of that because in Yellowstone he plays this salt of the earth ranch hand son of (Kevin Costner’s character). I sent him the script and he loved it.
When we got together, it was even better because he’s literally this guy in real life. He owns a 60 acre piece of property in Ohio and he goes and hunts in his off time. He really got into this idea of the film and in real life he really is much more like Nick – minus the violence and insanity. He really took the mantle of who this character was.
With the James Badge Dale role, I wanted someone who viewers can empathize with. Within two seconds, you can get behind them emotionally, the (kind of guy) who would go to the ends of the Earth for a friend. He’s that kind of guy wherein you can immediately respond to in that way. He elicits that empathy for the viewer, I think.
Can you talk about not spelling everything out in your narrative and actually subverting your tale?
On the front end of not pandering to the audience and not giving too much away, I think the audience these days are a lot smarter, but I don’t think the system or films that get made trust that so much.
People can fill in the blanks that you don’t need. I didn’t want it to be a movie where I’m over explaining everything because it’s not really what the film is about. The movie is about the thematic idea and implications versus the ‘Oh what’s the specific plot and we need to understand why.’
It’s more of a sensory thing and how people deal with each other versus ‘Oh, I need to know exactly what happens.’ I thought we kind of rode the line of Frank Grillo’s character giving us enough of what happened in terms of the story of why these guys are actually together but not giving so much away that it cheapens the film.
The same thing at the end when what happens to Sloan (Frank Grillo) happens, holding it back was a purposeful decision because, again, it’s not what the story is about. To me, the story was always a drama first and a thriller second.
All the elemental components, all of the action and the violence, was very secondary to the characters and who they were.
In terms of the narrative and messing with the structure, it was sort of the idea that the first half of the movie was Nick’s (Luke Grimes) perspective and the second half was Sheriff Frank Parson’s (Robert Taylor) perspective. Both of those perspectives coalescing at the end when the two men have to come to terms face to face with each other.
It was purposely laid out in that fashion to sort of keep you engaged moving forward and kind of discover it while they are discovering it.
It just made sense in the way I wanted to tell the story versus it being some gimmicky choice. If that makes sense.
Obviously Robert Mitchum is fantastic. The movie, on the whole, is good from a story perspective. But I’ve always been drawn to these movies of sort of isolated men. The lonely men, kind of archetypal movies where there is a character who is out of place in the environment and he is trying to figure it out and understand what it really means.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a film that embodies all of the broader implications of that with a little more interesting story that’s a little bit more filled out than just a singular protagonist who we are following along. Taxi Driver is another one that is at the top of my list or maybe my favorite movie ever because it does the exact same thing where you just have these men who are out of place in the world, or at least in the world of the film. You get to see how they deal and interact. And then second to that, the idea of bonding and masculinity and what it means to be a man. It’s just something I’ve found very interesting and I’ve put that in the last couple of movies much more purposefully because it’s something I know and can identify with.
When you write and make movies you want to do it as honestly as you can and keeping the integrity of what you are doing as much as possible. And so instead of trying to over extend myself I try to focus and (think) ‘What are the things I respond to and understand from my own perspective?’
The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Taxi Driver, Thief, and Rolling Thunder are movies that I just look at and love. (All of these films) embody those ideas. Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch is really a movie about brotherhood, it’s not really about them looking for that big score that they’re after. It’s much more than that. So that’s where, with this film, I tried to do a similar idea to that and keep it in the vein and canon of those kind of movies.
But that’s why I love The Friends of Eddie Coyle. It hits all the buttons and it’s such a great film.
Is writing for you the best part of filmmaking, or is it a necessary evil?
It is, for sure, a necessary evil (laughs). Writing is definitely a labor. Anybody who tells you it is, is lying. It’s difficult. I’ve always been able to write rather easily within the mechanics of writing, but I’m always looking at it with the eye of making the movie. From the standpoint of what’s the movie I want to see, I pretend what I’m looking at the screen and filter that back onto the page.
For sure, it’s a means to an end because I’m always trying to direct. That is what I want to do and I know the stories I want to tell, so the writing is secondary to the ultimate agenda directing, editing and putting the film out. But it is fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the process in a masochistic way (laughs). Creating it is always a good time but it is not an easy and fun thing. There are moments of frustration when you want to put your head through a wall (laughs) but it’s always to make a film. I’m not a writer who is just obsessed with the writing.
Into The Ashes is now playing in theaters and is available On Demand and Digital. My full audio interview with Aaron Harvey, including his discussing of the film’s ending, is available for our Patreon supporters.
To listen to our discussion and my review of Into The Ashes, check out episode 99 of CinemAddicts: