There are some films that gradually demand your attention but Mat Whitecross’ ‘Ashes’ is the kind of movie that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and takes you along for the ride.
Starring Ray Winstone (‘Scum’, ‘Nil By Mouth’ and ‘The Departed’) and Jim Sturgess (‘The Way Back’ and ‘50 Dead Men Walking’), ‘Ashes’ is a film about a man called Frank Barron (Winstone) who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and his relationship with his estranged son Jamie (Sturgess).
Jamie, who hasn’t seen his father in a while, tracks him down to a secure unit hospital.
The doctor in charge tells him that his father has Alzheimer’s and is not the man he once was but after witnessing the stress and anxiety that Frank is under, Jamie decides to bust him out of the hospital and the pair go on a road trip across England like no other.
‘Ashes’ is based on the real life experiences of director Whitecross, whose father Richard had Alzheimer’s and although the film had to appear palatable for a paying audience it’s crystal clear that it’s a film made with raw passion and emotion.
The first scene where Frank meets his son Jamie for the first time in years is by far one of the most emotive of 2012.
Winstone, who has made a name for himself playing tough guy characters with a thirst for violence, appears vulnerable and almost childlike in the scene - it’s testament to just how talented an actor he is.
Be that as it may, whilst Winstone is clearly capable of bringing Frank’s vulnerability to the fore he can easily switch to being threatening, violent and intense.
It’s hinted that before being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Frank was a person who was on the wrong side of the law and his decline into a situation where he is exposed and defenceless is utterly believable.
Winstone, for many, will be the film’s stand out performer but Jim Sturgess is on top form, yet again, as Frank’s son Jamie.
Some of Jamie’s decisions, for example to let his father drive, raise questions over their plausibility but about half way through it becomes clear and any doubts over the movie’s continuity are dispelled.
It’s inevitable that comparisons will be made with Barry Levinson’s 1988 film ‘Rain Man’ starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman, , but the final third of ‘Ashes’ makes it a stand alone movie.
Despite the fact that Alzheimer’s is central to the film’s plot, Whitecross successfully manages to leave the audience feeling a sense of hope and optimism.
Whitecross is a director traditionally associated with music videos and music biopics (‘Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll’) so ‘Ashes’ is a step outside of his comfort zone.
Whitecross is more than capable of directing thrillers and it’ll be no surprise if he was go on and do more.
Whitecross’ direction and script have your attention after ten minutes but after half an hour you will be totally hooked, focused and unable to think about anything else.
‘Ashes’ was the opening event of this year’s Foyle Film Festival.
The number of people who went along to the Irish premiere in the Brunswick Moviebowl on Wednesday night proves that there’s a local appetite for such films.
Every cinema needs to screen its blockbusters but it would be great if cinemas in Derry could show more movies like ‘Ashes’ because without the Foyle Film Festival we would be starved of such movies for 52 weeks of the year as opposed to 51.
VERDICT: 4/5 - Alzheimer’s is always a difficult topic to approach in a film but with Winstone’s gravitas and guile and Sturgess’ skill ‘Ashes’ is totally plausible. Directed by Mat Whitecross, it soon becomes clear that what the audience is witnessing is the real life experiences of someone who has had to deal with the loss of a loved one to the illness. A marvellous, heartfelt movie and Whitecross is a director with a big future.