This emotionally powerful film features what may well be the best performance of Ray Winstone’s career, but don’t watch it expecting the average Britcrime gangster caper. Ashes is nothing of the sort, although it draws on all the themes of what might happen to an aging London mobster when his world comes crashing down… but not from enemy action, but rather being eaten away from within, by dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The result is a stunning if at times excruciatingly uncomfortable 90 minutes, a kind of Rain Man with Brit grit and hard-faced authenticity. A young man goes looking for Frank, and finds him in a care home, medicated and incoherent. They take a road trip together, but while Dustin Hoffman’s bonding process with Tom Cruise was soppy and sentimental, there’s a far darker side to the transaction going on here. The young man has problems of his own and Frank – fragmenting into a confused mishmash of past memories and present incomprehension – is his solution.
Winstone is simply brilliant, shifting from a drooling idiot in one breath to the living spectre of the hard man he once was in the following instant. Violence feels ever-present, a lurking subtext to his life, one which is now so miserable that he can’t even remember his own sins, never mind why he has been abandoned… or even who has abandoned him.
The ending, poignant and powerful, is entirely appropriate.
Not the sort of film for a Saturday night entertainment; Ashes blends the reality of dementia and the fragmentation of the self with the possible sins of a criminal man. It’s bleak, ridiculously funny at times, and refreshingly original. A truly excellent and unexpected film.