Ash Wednesday (2002) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language and some violence
Running Time: 98 min.
Cast: Edward Burns, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Pat McNamara, Oliver Platt
Director: Edward Burns
Screenplay: Edward Burns
Review published October 15, 2002
Writer-director-star Edward Burns (No Looking Back, Sidewalks of New York) turns in his most serious work to date, and the result is both impressive and disappointing at the same time. It's a good-looking film, with sumptuous cinematography by Russell Lee Fine (The Grey Zone, O) and good use of locales in Brooklyn to give the right look and feel at all times. The acting is patchy, with some credible performances by the main players, but weak actors in many of the supporting roles disrupts the tone from time to time, which weakens the momentum. Burns' writing builds its story well, and there's good character development in the script, but the dialogue feels unnatural. I've seen many films that use the F-word liberally and normally I'm not one who minds, but the use of it in Ash Wednesday seemed to abuse the privilege when characters begin to use it before every noun and verb, giving most of the dialogue an artificial feel.
The film is set in the early 80s, where Ash Wednesday is honored by the mostly Irish denizens of New York's Hell's Kitchen. It's a special day, not only for religious reasons, but because it is the third anniversary of the killing of three men in a local bar by Sean Sullivan (Wood, The Fellowship of the Ring), and also the night he died. Or did he? Suddenly there are reports that Sean has made an appearance at another local bar, and soon there are dangerous people crawling around looking to see if the rumors are true, because if they are, Sean is going to die for real. Sean's brother Francis (Burns) wants to squash the rumors before things get out of hand, especially since Sean is hiding out in his apartment.
This hit-and-miss drama meanders most of the way without much going for it in the story except some good characters to build around. Eventually the film starts to hit its stride in the final third, with some gritty drama and some unexpected developments, and the fact that we begin to care about the characters pays off. This isn't great drama, but it does manage to work.
Fans of Edward Burns will probably enjoy this effort in seeing him try a straight drama. Those who expect this to be another one of his comedies may come away disappointed, however. It's worth a look for some decent drama, but not enough to go out of your way for.
©2002 Vince Leo