Today: February 24, 2024

Ashes

Past, present and Alzheimer’s collide in Ashes, a film that delves deep into the term ‘gritty drama’

Past, present and Alzheimer’s collide in Ashes, a
film that delves deep into the term ‘gritty drama’.
If
there’s one thing that British cinema knows how to do, outside of clichéd gangsters
and weddings, it’s down-to-earth drama.
Ashes is no exception and while often dealing with heavy subject matter
it fails to engage on a narrative level.

When James (Jim Sturgess) goes looking for his
father Frank (Ray Winstone), he is
surprised and appalled to find his old man living in a psychiatric hospital
suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Angry at the environment Frank is living in, James breaks his father
free and the pair head out on the road together. But Frank is easily confused and disorientated, before long
his memories begin to encroach on the present putting both himself and James at
risk.

Director Mat Whitecross has clearly made a very
personal story having watched his father succumb to Alzheimer’s. Ashes is often hard-hitting, putting
the disease front at centre of the film and never shying from the bitter lows
and glimmers of hope that can tint Frank’s life. One minute he can be shouting, angry and frustrated and not
remembering who James is, the next he can be laughing with a child-like
innocence with his son. As James
points out; “he raised me, so now it’s my turn”.

Best known for
his more musically inspired films such as Sex
& Drugs & Rock & Roll
and the upcoming Spike Island, Whitecross certainly lends Frank’s disorientation a
believable visual style. The lens
often flaring, blinding us like Frank, with bouts of confusion.

In the first hour
Ashes is a difficult but powerful watch.
Unfortunately the second half insists on bringing in a gangster sub-plot
which undermines the more heartfelt drama that has preceded it. The twists of the final act, while
shedding light on Frank’s memories, feel unnecessary rather than lending to the
emotional impact of the film.

Sturgess is
solid, more than believable as a young man desperately trying to care for his
father. The film’s best moments
stem from his and Winstone’s interactions, always painful to behold but with
just the right amount of pathos to melt the heart. Winstone, often at his best when avoiding the typecasting of
hard-man, gives an emotionally powerful performance. A man who is not quite there while at the same time a constant
reminder of the man he once was.

Dealing in heavy
and difficult subject matter, Ashes shows sparks of being a detailed look at a
terrible affliction but is ultimately stamped out by gimmicky writing in the
final third.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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