The crime thriller genre may not be as well-worn as the coming of age tales or romcoms, but there’s enough out there to forge a predictable path. Writer/director Aaron Harvey’s latest film Into The Ashes has the look and feel of a straight ahead revenge drama, but it takes a left turn and makes a pretty big gamble. From where I sit, the gamble pays off from the get go.
Nick (Luke Grimes) is a seemingly Average Joe living in rural Alabama with a loving wife Tara (Marguerite Moreau) and holding down a blue collar job working in the furniture business. On the weekends he travels to a remote area in the woods to work on a cabin with his best buddy Sal (James Badge Dale). Their routine is a rather simple one; stop off at a local bar along the way, pop off a few beers, and head out to work on that cabin.
We see a quick glimpse of Nick’s happiness with Tara (she also holds down a job at a supermarket), and their love is definitely real yet complicated. Nick has a dark past that maybe he never fully divulged to Tara, and even if she had an inkling about his days as a crook, she obviously took that chance at happiness.
Frank Grillo is Sloan, the head of the outfit that Nick was a part of, and with Sloan recently out of prison his first mission is to find Nick and settle some old score. Sloan’s right hand man Charlie (David Cade, just as menacing as Grillo) and newbie Bruce (Scott Peat) are also along for the ride to help exact a bit of vengeance.
They eventually kill Nick’s wife (this is not a spoiler, as it’s in the trailer and sets off Nick’s quest for revenge) and also put a bullet in Nick’s back.
Writer/director Aaron Harvey, with such a talented and physically adept group of actors in tow, could have turned Into The Ashes into a two-dimensional, pulp noir infused revenge tale and this movie still could have worked as a guilty pleasure. Instead, he absolutely ups the creative ante by going the opposite direction.
Films like The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Killing Them Softly, and No Country for Old Men, while having their share of violence, also subtly explore themes that one may have never seen coming, and Into The Ashes attempts to examine the value of justice over retribution serve as part of Into The Ashes’ thematic spine.
Harvey also infuses his grim tale with a methodical, suffocating dread that, for a spell, is hard to shake. Robert Taylor, praised for his work on TV’s Longmire, is Frank Parson, the sheriff who’s dealing with his daughter’s death. Even though Nick is family, Frank realizes that his son-in-law’s past actions must have its reckoning. Frank and Nick are both grieving over Tara’s killing, but they have different methods of dealing with these killers (I’m assuming you know who plans to kill them all sans prejudice). Ultimately, these two separate approaches will have their inevitable showdown.
A substantial section of Into the Ashes delves into Frank’s own investigation of the murderers and search for Nick, and actually shifting the POV late in the game was also an intriguing choice. Harvey employs an unexpected but ultimately immersive non-linear approach to the proceedings, and some of the story’s ultimate “pay-offs’ may disappoint some viewers.
Luke Grimes, best known for his work on Yellowstone, brings the requisite broodiness and depth as Nick, and that perfect casting extends to the rest of the lived-in ensemble. There is almost zero backstory on any of the characters on Into The Ashes, but any extra exposition based scenes (or predictable flashbacks) would have weighed down this taut 97-minute experience.
It’s refreshing Into the Ashes doesn’t feed into the obvious bloodlust that propels many crime thrillers, and he seems to have much more on his mind that giving us exactly what we are expecting. Into The Ashes will surely have its detractors regarding Harvey’s often baroque approach to his story, but sometimes taking the road less traveled is good for one’s soul. Thankfully, that choice also led to a damn good movie.
Into the Ashes is now playing in theaters and is available on Digital and On Demand.
Rating 4 out of 5.
Take a listen below as I discuss Into The Ashes with my podcast partner Anderson Cowan on Episode 99 of CinemAddicts:
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