Blue Ruin is a stripped down revenge tale that wonders what would happen if the most unassuming man in the world decided to revenge himself against his father’s killers. It marks just the second feature film from writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, but it is made with the steady hand of a far more accomplished director. Having worked as a cinematographer on many acclaimed independent productions, it’s no surprise that Saulnier’s film is photographed beautifully, but it’s the incredible tension of the storytelling that is the highlight.
The film follows Dwight (Macon Blair), a bearded young drifter scratching a life together along the coastal US. Living out of his car, he spends his nights rummaging through trash cans for food, and collecting bottles. He is a man with nothing, living off the grid and basically unseen by those around him. However when a local police officer comes to tell him that his father’s killer is being released from prison, Dwight heads back to his hometown. After a brutal attack in a bar restroom, he finds himself facing off against a family of gun-toting hillbillies in his battle for revenge.
On paper it sounds like pretty standard indie fare, however Blue Ruin tells it’s story with such visceral realism that it becomes something more. Driven by his vengeance at first, Dwight soon finds himself being hunted and his revenge fantasy morphs into a story of survival. The scenes of violence are staged in close quarters, building with wicked suspense and shuddering with the unpredictability of a cornered animal. The film features moments of shocking and bloody violence, but – like the early films of the Coen brothers – it’s in the exploration of the consequences of that violence that the film excels.
In the lead role Macon Blair is a picture of innocence. The fact that such an unassuming man would go on a bloody quest for revenge is both odd and empowering. Everyone has felt that flare of anger. That sudden bloodlust after someone has done you a terrible wrong. Well Dwight is the everyman, acting upon the urges we have all felt. But a Liam Neeson he ain’t, and in the film’s most stressful moments Blair encapsulates the animal fear and horror of bloody conflict. It’s a demanding performance brought off wonderfully by the actor.
The supporting cast is equally strong. As Dwight’s sister Sam, Amy Hargreaves represents the humanity her brother is giving up. Just as angry at her father’s killers, she encourages Dwight on his quest while simultaneously recognizing it for what it is: the actions of a weak man. As an old pal from high school who Dwight goes to for help, Devin Ratray is a tone-perfect example of the bullied kid grown up, and his scenes are a welcome streak of irreverence amidst the film’s weighty darkness. Kevin Kolack’s snarling Teddy Cleland is wickedly mean while also being oddly sympathetic.
Full of suspense and an undercurrent of dark humour, Blue Ruin is a great example of the benefits of a low budget. Kept simple, without car chases and explosions, the film relies on careful scene construction and composition to build suspense. The action is raw and realistic; guns backfire, knives cut their owners, and punching people hurts. Viewers sensitive to blood and gore should be advised. While the violence does serve the story, it may seem gratuitous to some. Still, it’s far more arthouse than grindhouse, and the fact that Dwight is as horrified at the violence as anyone else largely redeems it.
Well paced, beautifully shot and exceptionally acted, Blue Ruin is as powerful a piece of dramatic filmmaking as you’ll find in theatres this weekend. It’s a breakout film that makes us very excited to see what’s next for director Jeremy Saulnier. Check it out and theatres, and remember that revenge is a dish best served with popcorn.
Reviewed by Evan Arppe.
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