Written and directed by Aaron Harvey and starring Luke Grimes (Yellowstone) and Frank Grillo (Captain America: Civil War), Into the Ashes is a new neo-Western that is both satisfyingly brutal and brutally satisfying. The film tells the story of an ex-con who, having cleaned up his life, is sent on a path of revenge when his past comes back to haunt him.
Although the story is relatively generic, adhering rather closely to the tropes of the revenge genre, it is well-written enough that it still feels enjoyable and meaningful. Harvey’s script may not be the most original, but he is able to draw you into his world in a way that allows the movie to regain an element of unpredictability. You will likely be able to predict where the overall arc of the film is going, but individual beats are much more difficult to foretell.
Harvey does a great job of pacing his film too. The first half of the movie is a slow burn, which is effective in drawing you into the film. However, once the story takes a much darker turn around the halfway mark, the intensity also ramps up and the pacing becomes far quicker. The latter half of the movie is hypnotically intense (although never rushed) and thoroughly entertaining.
The themes addressed by the film are also quite interesting. Granted, the ground that this movie covers has been trodden already, but Harvey brings a perspective to the story that is rooted deeply in emotion, and as such, they feel more resonant than ever. The ideas of revenge and justice are central to the film, and while some of the Biblical allusions that the movie are a tad underdeveloped, the way they are explored by Harvey is mostly very interesting.
One significant factor that contributes to the film’s success is Harvey’s phenomenal use of characterization. The protagonist is a great example of a flawed hero, eliciting maximum sympathy from the audience because of the mistakes he has made. It is hard not to find the protagonist likable because of his dedication to redeeming himself and becoming a better person. His relationships with the other characters also go a long way in making him feel more compelling.
Lead actor Grimes does a phenomenal job as the protagonist, bringing a ton of emotion to the role, especially in the second half of the movie. There is a lot of subtlety in his performance, which is integral to making the film feel grounded and believable. Grimes is complemented by a great supporting cast. James Badge Dale is quickly establishing himself to be one of the greatest character actors working right now, doing an excellent job in a supporting role as one of the protagonist’s friends. Grillo also gives a phenomenal turn as the antagonist, being menacing in all the right ways.
On a technical level, the movie is fine, but nothing spectacular. The overall look and feel of the film is rather dark to the point that it can almost be difficult to see at times, but this is fitting given the undeniably and overwhelmingly dark nature of the script. However, for the most part, this low lighting isn’t particularly distracting or detrimental to the movie as a whole.
Into the Ashes is a truly surprising film. It isn’t the most original or phenomenally-shot movie, but it is a lean, effective, and entertaining thriller benefitting from great performances and interesting themes.
Into the Ashes hits theaters and VOD on July 19.