July 12-- It's the job of the director to take viewers on a journey to a satisfying destination. That trip often is made better by the actors who populate the road taken by the person behind the camera, but it always comes down to what kind of tour guide the director is. That's what makes or breaks a film project. In the case of Aaron Harvey ("The Neighbor"), his directorial trek with "Into the Ashes" goes down such a very familiar plot road the final result is lacking anything that makes it a memorable excursion.
The acting by Luke Grimes, Frank Grillo and Robert Taylor is first-rate and the lonesome back-woods settings have a way of enveloping every scene with a cloak of despair. It's the script by Harvey that creates such an uninspired trek into the morality play. He takes a direct-line approach when looking at the choices a man must make when he reaches the crossroads that connect his miserable past life with his potential happy future. The story is so lacking in creativity that every single moment in "Into the Ashes" is predictable to the point of being painful.
It starts with Nick (Grimes), an ex-con who has finally got his life in order and is living a well-adjusted life in rural Alabama. He has a job and a wife who loves him deeply. There would not be much drama if that was the extent of the story, but the disruption comes in the form of Nick's former crime buddies tracking him down. The chief threat among the old friends is played with such controlled rage by Grillo that he gives the character life but that doesn't translate to a better plot thread for him.
This is where Harvey could have taken the film in multiple directions. The twists that he should have taken at this point would have helped elevate the film to a more surprising and appealing level. Instead, Harvey plods along with a standard redemption story. It's no fun to watch a movie unfold when every guess about the scene to come is exactly what has been predicted.
Harvey even had two tracks he could have taken on different routes. Along with Nick's linear tale of past evil vs. current good, there's the story of Nick's father-in-law, Frank (Taylor), the local sheriff. That creates an opening for a fresh look at this familiar tale of a man's wrestling match with his own morals. Instead, Harvey never pushes Taylor past playing the role as if it was leftover moments from his days starring in the series "Longmire." Taylor was exception in "Longmire" and so that ends up being a positive, but Harvey should never have to bank on someone else's work to get what he needs for his movie.
The film continues along an unflinching linear path that eventually gets to the final scene that was Harvey's last chance to give the audience a shock to the cinematic system. Instead of being brave and bold, the director-writer takes the story to the final credits without a glimmer of original thinking. This safe approach isn't bad but does waste an opportunity to be memorable.
This can all be traced back to Harvey being both the writer and director of "Into the Ashes." His serious lack of experience in making feature films comes screaming through – especially with the script. There have been times when one person can find success as both the director and writer but the number of failures easy overshadows the successes. This is not one of the success stories.
Harvey needed another. Some outside influence could have pushed for at least one plot twist of turn. There's no assurances Harvey would have listened but things could not have gotten more mediocre.
Small-budget films can't blind an audience with dazzling special effects or exotic locations. A movie like "Into the Ashes" relies heavily on the performances and the story. Half of that is provided through acting efforts that rise above the material but not enough to keep the faulty story from taking the focus.
This leaves "Into the Ashes" an acceptable little movie that could have been more memorable with a little bit of risk taking.
INTO THE ASHES
Cast: Luke Grimes, Robert Taylor, James Badge Dale, Frank Grillo, Marguerite Moreau.
Director: Aaron Harvey
Rated: Not rated
Running time: 97 minutes.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.