Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Amy Hargreaves, Devin Ratray and Kevin Kolack
Release Date: April 25, 2014
From certain indications one can begin to question very early on in Blue Ruin what exactly it is that is going on. For nearly the first fifteen minutes all dialogue has virtually vanished. The only discernible sounds are the occasional grunts and groans of a middle-aged homeless man scouring the Delaware beaches and carnivals for any remnant of already devoured food. This approach to begin a film this way is exceedingly rare in contemporary cinema. We are used to the huge spectacle films making an immediate, fantastical impact to lure us into their world. Seldom do such films resort to the tactic Blue Ruin employs so effortlessly. Director Jeremy Saulnier, who also shot and scripted the film, conceals the film’s penchant for violence only for so long until he finally finds it necessary to violently plunge us forward into a world littered with individuals with many irredeemable qualities.
The patience that director Saulnier exhibits is admirable. In a time when audiences lust for that big pay-off moment, this film slowly builds the tension, increasing the violence, thrills, and revelations as the film progresses. We do not get exposed to the entire plot until later on in the film. Watching the first fifteen minutes one would never anticipate where this narrative intends to go. Regardless, we go anyway because Saulnier is able to perpetuate, through the entire film, the extremities of dread and uneasiness, two qualities that correspond with the Coen brothers’ films, which this film seems to resemble. The delicacy of the script, the tight narrative and the slow, exact revealing of plot obtains our attention immediately, and before you know it we are on our way.
Watching Dwight (Macon Blair), the homeless man, go about his daily routine in a deliberate manner is intoxicating. He commits no crimes, save for breaking into homes only to bathe once he is in. A massive, disheveled beard hides his face and the hair on his head is a mess. This entire man’s life is a wreck. One morning sleeping in his decrepit blue Pontiac Bonneville he gets a wakeup call from a police officer. She informs him that he has done nothing illegal. What she reveals to him, though, alters Dwight’s life immeasurably: the man who murdered his parents in 1993 has been let out of jail after twenty years. His already complicated life will be made even more hellacious.
We see the murderer, Wade Cleland, being freed from a Virginia penitentiary and the rest of the Cleland crew pick him up, slowly approaching the prison gates in a white limo. By this time Dwight has adequately prepared himself. In a few scenes we see him at once determined, petrified, motivated, and unsure. Will the Clelands hunt him? Will they ignore him? Will he pursue them? These scenes are filmed with a constrained camera, only focusing on Dwight’s distorted, perplexed countenance. It is as if he believes he is inevitably slated to meet the worst.
Blue Ruin is powerfully resonant as a revenge thriller. And since it is a revenge thriller it does follow the required plot points any similar film would follow. We get Dwight’s distressed sister (Amy Hargreaves), his gun crazy comrade (Devin Ratray), and the Cleland family (headed by Wade’s brother played by Kevin Kolack) who are relentless in their pursuit for violence. But we do witness the film working at its absolute apex in Dwight’s character. His parents’ death left him with an ineradicable hatred and contempt for all those who had been involved with their murder. This homeless man, dependent on the rubbish he discovers in the trash or on the beach, musters up everything inside him and transforms into a tenacious assassin who has an unwavering infatuation with revenge. It is what happens when man is pushed to the limit.
Here is a film that is a prodigious achievement for Saulnier when compared to his 2007 horror/comedy film Murder Party. Seven years after the release of that film he has crafted a mature, straightforward picture that, if willing to look beneath its surface, reveals much more. There are a few scenes showing Dwight, after breaking into someone’s home, shaving his beard, trimming his hair, showering, keenly searching a walk-in closet for a colorful dress shirt and, after he’s dressed and neatly pampered, flicking through the television stations. These are routine steps in a life Dwight never experienced and never will experience. Blue Ruin excels as a revenge thriller, but it may even be a more impressive film when looked at as a film that highlights a man forever incapable of enjoying life and forever ruined.
****1/2 out of *****