E. A Solinas | MD USA | 02/14/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's gritty. It's dirty. It's violent and scary. It has little ash crosses on it. In a nutshell, it's Edward Burns' latest movie, "Ash Wednesday," a surprisingly poignant and thrilling action movie about two Irish-American brothers caught in a very dangerous position. Though it's a little uneven, especially in the first half, the intensity makes it worth seeing.The date is Ash Wednesday, 1980. The place: Hell's Kitchen. Sean Sullivan (Elijah Wood) is tending bar when he overhears three thugs plotting to kill his brother Francis (Edward Burns). So takes out a gun and kills all three of them to keep Francis alive. After that night, everyone hears that Sean is dead, and life continues for Francis and Sean's young wife (Rosario Dawson) for three years.What no one knows is that Sean is really alive. And soon Francis begins to hear rumors that Sean has been seen hanging around the neighborhood. Little brother wants his wife back (unaware that he now has a baby son). Problem is, if he is still alive, then there are some scores yet to be settled. And Francis may have to pay the price to keep his family safe.Revenge stories have been with us since... well, a very long time. And "Ash Wednesday" is noteworthy less for the complexity of its story (it really doesn't have any) than for HOW it's told. Family loyalty in movies is something that can rarely be done without sappiness, but amazingly Burns strips it down and makes it very moving. The first half is kind of slow, with a lot of Burns walking around and looking grim. But things pick up and compensate in the second half with more guns, dangerous strangers and family problems. Burns' directorial style is as gritty and shadowy as the place he sets his film in; the brief twenty-day shooting schedule probably added to the feeling of urgency. Symbolism abounds in Burns' latest flick; for example the ash crosses, part of a Roman Catholic ritual right before Lent, serve as a reminder of mortality. During some of the most important (and potentially deadly) scenes, Burns and Wood have those marks on their foreheads. It's a nice extra dimension, considering that most action flicks don't have more than one or two levels on them. Burns does an excellent job with a character who has a rather rotten past, and now has a need to protect the people he loves. Wood doesn't appear for much of the movie, but does an exceptional job when he does; his wide range is evident through the movie, whether he's cooing at his baby son or snarling as he guns down the thugs. Dawson doesn't really have a chance to do much, but is quite good with the confusion her character feels.Burns' sharp-edged flick about choices and loyalty goes a bit deeper than your average revenge flick. Though flawed by an uneven pace and simple story, "Ash Wednesday" is well-acted and very compelling. Certainly worth a watch."
Developing a consistent voice
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 02/24/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Edward Burns is obviously a talent to watch. In ASH WEDNESDAY he explores the Irish men and women of Hell's Kitchen in a story about gangs and about familial devotion. Burns casts himself as the lead - a once bad guy who changes his ways to protect his little brother from the revenge of a killing. Displaying a keen knowledge of the interactions of the Irish families, interworkings with the Catholic Church, the seediness of Hell's Kitchen, Burns has gathered a fine cast which includes Elijah Wood, Oliver Platt, Malachy McCourt and an impressive group of lesser known actors to give a sense of realism to this sad story. The lighting is creepily superb and the filming techniques are in keeping with the overall mood of the piece. I take exception with the over-loud, boring/boorish piano music background which not only covers the spoken word at times, but is so consistently repetitive that it draws attention away from the story. Still, the over all effect is one of a young man growing solidly into a director and actor of signifcance."
ferretk4 | Chicago, IL USA | 09/09/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Ash Wednesday is not a GREAT movie. You should know that right off the bat. It is not even a particularly GOOD movie. So that's the bad news out of the way.
The good news is, it isn't bad either, in its own way. It is extremely slow-paced at the beginning and quite repetitive, but the music and repetetiveness make it relaxing rather than boring; it becomes almost hypnotizing, at least if you're watching it late at night.The movie is about a family entangled in a mess of murderous criminals, a boy (Elijah Wood) who killed three of these criminals years ago and paid for it with his life, and his older brother who starts to hear rumors that his late sibling has been seen around town.
It doesn't have a lot in the way of plot, but once it gets going, not even that slows down this movie; it has midnight chases, tense moments, gunshots, scared girlfriends and mysterious people in the corner enough for any better-planned action movie, and it more than makes up for spending the first half of the movie watching the older brother walk around and run into people on the street.As I said at the beginning, this is not a great movie. But it should certainly be credited with being, for want of a better word, resourceful: it has a second-rate, predictable plot and not much else, but it takes what it has and runs with it and the result is surprisingly entertaining.(Also, fans of Elijah Wood, this will be a fun movie for you!)"
Ash Wednesday: Riveting
Edward C. Patterson | Allentown, PA | 08/27/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Ash Wednesday is a dark movie with a prosaic plot line and a simple theme. But like many simple things, there are layers of complexity in the fabric of this film-mostly from the sturdy script and the superlative character acting. The viewer is given a New York texture-the old neighborhood, even if the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City was leveled twenty years prior to the action-the look and feel is just about right to our mind for a grim Irish Catholic object lesson with a Johnny One-Note theme.
Ed Burns, and it is Ed Burns' film, delivers a solid performance as the repentant Francis Sullivan, who is seeking salvation from his former life. He's not so repentant that he's above adultery, but his brother Sean is supposed to be permanently out of the picture -so does adultery count? Francis is an intense character, gaining credibility through repetitive phrasing as if the only way he knows the next steps are by repeating them. He also wins the F word award as the only adjective in his vocabulary-although his metaphors are as colorful as Archie Bunkers. Burns is riveting in his portrayal and the rest of the cast rides along on the tracks he lays.
Elijah Wood, in an unusual role for him, plays the younger brother, who is imaginative, college material and forward looking, if not a dreamer-but not above killing three men on impulse and returning from the dead on a whim. Wood gives us a foil against Burns' character. While Francis is focused, Sean is not. He lives in a fantasy world (sometimes). He's angry at other times. There could even be a tinge of bi-polarism in this character. Wood unsettles us in his remarkable portrayal, which leaves the character unresolved and allows the audience to forecast Sean's ultimate failure.
Mallachy McCourt as Whitey, the Irish Godfather, gives us a stereotype, but exactly with the right tessitura to make the neighborhood more Irish than Italian. Oliver Platt is excellent as the rival Mike Moran-menacing and uncompromising, vengeful and the villain-type we all cheer when he's killed. Rosario Dawson as Grace Quinonez adds the anguish to the texture, as Burns doesn't do anguish and Wood can't come down to earth long enough to deliver it. As the wife in love with two brothers and the victim of circumstance, she's a bit like Juliet and as such, James Handy, as Father Mahoney, plays the Friar. In fact, the film has many Romeo and Juliet parallels-a hero who murders to protect his best friend (in this case, his brother); a meddlesome nurse (in this case a barfly named Maggie Shea); gang rivalry although not to the pitch of the Montagues and Capulets; and, of course, the theme that families must pay for their darkest crimes with the blood of the innocent (in this case, the not-so-innocent).
The unrelenting darkness of Ash Wednesday, after all Ash Wednesday is supposed to be a heavy day of atonement, might not be for all tastes. However, with a Shakespearean texture, solid performances from Burns and Wood (and the supporting cast of types), this film should not be overlooked, even though you might not pop it in your DVD player as often as The Lord of the Rings. A.