Maven's Nest

Reel Life: Flick Pix

Masculine revenge noir women can appreciate by forgiving some clichés.

By Nora Lee Mandel

Into the Ashes
Written and Directed by Aaron Harvey
Produced by Robert Ogden Barnum, David Cade, Jamin O'Brien, Daniel Blanc, Aaron Harvey, and Eric Binns
Released by RLJE Films
USA. 97 mins. Not Rated
With Luke Grimes, Robert Taylor, Frank Grillo, James Badge Dale, Marguerite Moreau, David Cade, Brady Smith, Scott Peat, and Jeff Pope
Released in Theaters, On Demand, and Digital: July 19, 2019

Into the Ashes is a violent, male-dominated revenge flick that women can appreciate. Even when the dialogue sometimes slips into almost satirically noir predictability, the charismatic cast, dark ambiance, and strong motivations propel involvement in the conflicted characters.

Haunted Nick Brenner may be burning evidence of his past in the opening images. He’s played by the very appealing, ragged-haired Luke Grimes, who is a prime reason to watch TV’s Yellowstone. The voice-over set-up is de rigueur noir, but Robert Taylor’s deep rumble adds Old Testament gravitas to the rumination about Samson by Sheriff Frank Parson, as if TV’s Longmire has re-located to Alabama. They are crossed on screen with the third leg of the male loyalty triangle when Frank Grillo uses his Mixed Martial Arts physicality to embody the immediately convincing Sloan striding out of prison halls on a determined mission.

The base line of domestic redemption is first established as Nick lifts furniture behind his genial, co-worker repairman Sal Porter (James Badge Dale, who just this year also added his sincerity to other indie dramas Little Woods and Standoff at Sparrow Creek.) At the local supermarket, manager Tara (Marguerite Moreau) is as adept at discouraging a gossipy deputy as she is swatting down a family dinner invitation from her father the sheriff whose claim of acceptance for her husband seems strained. At home washing dishes, she easily forgives her husband Nick’s lateness in a sweet, romantic scene that is notable for the emphasis on his grateful tenderness over the usual “male gaze” exploitation or other female visual clichés.

Nick’s worried sleeplessness and frequent check-up calls to his wife are justified. Sloan immediately re-forms his own kind of family, and makes clear his laser-focused intention to find the traitor who kept more than his share, with no compunction over collateral damage. While his sidekicks Charlie (producer David Cade) and Bruce (Scott Peat) follow his plan, they unfortunately seem more incompetent than usefully fraternal, comic, or sociopathic.

As the body count in the small town rises, Sheriff Parson has to reconstruct the revenge trajectory that plays out with more purpose than SFX explosive violence. (Grillo also stars in the Point Blank re-make of Fred Cavayé’s 2010 hostage-taker released this same day on Netflix that is much more a shoot ‘em up/set ‘em on fire, with a token pregnant wife.) While I haven’t seen writer/director Harvey’s earlier work with the same filmmaking team for comparison, the cinematography of John W. Rutland, score by James Curd, and Richard Byard’s editing surround Nick’s brand of justice with classic noir cover.

Though one can predict some of the lines as if they’re being spoken by Firesign Theater doing their “Nick Danger, Third Eye” parody routines, the expressive faces, even in the ambiguous closing scenes, are more important, with more impact.

July 20, 2019

Nora Lee Mandel is a member of New York Film Critics Online and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Her reviews are counted in the Rotten Tomatoes TomatoMeter:
Complete Index to Nora Lee Mandel's Movie Reviews

Since August 2006, edited versions of most of my reviews of documentaries/indie/foreign films are at Film-Forward; since 2012, festival overviews at FilmFestivalTraveler; and, since 2016, coverage of women-made films at FF2 Media. Shorter versions of my older reviews are at IMDb's comments, where non-English-language films are listed by their native titles.

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