Revenge films have become so formulaic, we rarely need to pay attention anymore. Just take your favorite chisel-chinned actor, give him a threat against his family, a handy-dandy military background — the bad guys don’t’ know who they’re really dealing with — and a bunch of guns. Add villains, shake and throw in a few explosions. But what if the lead actor wasn’t handsome or well-known? What if he was actually kind of sad and schlumpy, didn’t know the first thing about weapons, wasn’t angry or particularly clever? Maybe he’s more a broken regular guy, homeless and grief-stricken, or maybe he’s you. The idea of vengeance or justice isn’t so easy…becomes more complicated.
Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier’s (Murder Party) haunting, stripped-down thriller rips away all the usual notions of revenge and anger, digs into its reality — its truth. There’s an underlying tension in the quiet observance of Dwight (Macon Blair), whose apparent meaningless existence is explored through his own lackadaisical, pensive eye. Dwight lives out of his car, finds his meals in dumpsters, his clothes drying on lines, and bathes in the abandoned tubs of 9 to 5ers or the ocean. We observe the life passing him by, soak in his sad eyes, and imagine ourselves in his place. Would we be so unaffecting, so graceful? As Dwight reads by flashlight in his backseat bed before sleep, we don’t so much wonder what happened that left him in this state, as realize it is a choice he has made. But, why? What drove him to pull away from everyone and everything?
It doesn’t take long for things to jump-startle us out of the lulled state we’re in, nor to find out where Dwight’s journey is headed, and it is a completely captivating, sometimes terrifying trip. Rather than give away its sparse elements, I’d rather tell you it’s beautifully paced, and filled with foreboding; Blue Ruin is a testament to the effectiveness of great acting and direction. Macon Blair’s unforgettable, completely inhabited performance will leave you as broken and thoughtful as Dwight—which I say not to warn you away, but to entice. Even in its darkest moments, Saulnier has infused the script with flashes of humor and genuine tension and in Dwight, he’s given us a new kind of…not so much hero as regular guy, who acts with honest motivation and emotions. Dwight reacts to circumstance both impulsively and purposefully. But don’t be lulled by my descriptions of his being and manner; there is judiciously employed and shocking violence herein. By grounding the film with its lead character, the bloody, gory moments are all the more disarming; an early scene almost seems to zap away the tension, but in reality the act’s fallout only increases it. Dwight’s fear and that feeling of being in over his head crescendos until his dread becomes our own — it’s like that tingling in your legs watching your Dad on a wobbly ladder as he reaches for the last Christmas light hook. There’s an inevitability of one false move that’ll send the whole world tumbling, and all you can do is stand there, praying he won’t fall.
Blue Ruin was financed by Kickstarter; it later premiered at Cannes and was awarded the FIPRESCI prize. Co-starring Devin Ratray (R.I.P.D., Nebraska, Home Alone), Amy Hargreaves (Shame, Homeland), Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch) and Kevin Kolack (The Family, In Between Men); directed, written and filmed by Jeremy Saulnier. Currently showing in theaters and on VOD.