Ash Wednesday (2002)
The art of pointless repetition
27 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I never understood what the big deal about Edward Burns was about. I mean, he surely is likable, but none of his writer-director-actor-ventures have amazed me at all. Given the right role he can do a convincing and entertaining job, but for me, that's about it.

"Ash Wednesday" isn't really a disaster, but it feels as if it was close to becoming one. All the way the movie feels only halfway good or bad, always going along a thin line of ambiguous quality. In the end (and especially in the final scene) the bad qualities win and the movie leaves you deeply unsatisfied.

Fran (Edward Burns) lives above a bar in Hell's Kitchen. He once was a crook, but has now become "clean", which means he has a job (of which we don't see a lot) and, well, doesn't seem to kill a lot of people anymore. Three years ago his brother Shaun (Elijah Wood) killed some guys who wanted to kill Fran and vanished afterwards, presumably being dead. But now people are talking about him reappearing in the neighborhood and Fran has to deal with the rumors and his old enemies.

I don't even know if this sounds interesting enough to watch the movie. When I saw it, I had no clue what it was about and maybe that was the reason it slightly intrigued me at first. But the fascination didn't last long, especially once you realize that Burns will spend a lot of time of the movie running around town talking to people. Which wouldn't be that bad, but if you listen to the dialog you realize that it gets rather repetitious.

I didn't count but there must be at least 5 conversations that develop in exactly the same way. Somebody tells Fran his brother is supposed to be alive after all, he denies it, the other one doesn't believe it, both go on. This isn't the most exciting idea of communication in the first place and various instances of it doesn't make it better, but if, in addition to that, those conversations are put together so that one just follows another for half an hour, it gets rather frustrating.

What is even more irritating is the complete lack of suspense here. How can any viewer seriously believe that Shaun is really dead? We're talking Elijah Wood here and that makes it pretty much 100% certain that he will sooner or later turn up in the movie again. The only point of suspense could come from the question whether Fran knows his brother is alive or not. But that's about it.

And that's about much of the movie too. It takes about 30 minutes till we find out what's the deal with the dead brother. From then on nothing of importance seems to happen. There are a lot of guys who want to kill both brothers. There is Shaun's supposed widow/wife and a priest who knows a lot. All of the roles are thankless. Elijah Wood has to deliver a monologue during which may wonder if he can't deliver it convincingly or if it is written so bad that no one could deliver it. I think it's a bit of both, but the scene is either way painful to watch. Oliver Platt is also in this movie, but there is simply nothing to say about him or his role. Same goes for Rosario Dawson who..., well is just there.

David Shire's music follows Burns' character for his first half of repeating the same dialog by repeating the same theme over and over again. The movie looks pale and dry, almost lifeless. There is some editing, especially in the final scene, that is inexcusable. Religious symbolism floats through the movie, looking for a place to make sense (again, especially in the last shot). The use of the F-word is so excessive, you wonder if the characters get a bonus for every time they use it. And there is one flashback scene (apart from the first one) that is as pointless as pointless can be.

And then there is the end. We get a rather conventional shootout finale and think, well, that's a fine way to end a movie, even if it's not really good. But then come the last shots and it completely destroys a movie which wasn't particularly good anyway. The ending gives you no satisfaction, no sense of righteousness or penance, nothing. In the end, there is nothing really appealing to this film.
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