Indie revenge drama delivers cold comfort
Blue Ruin (2013)
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves
When we first meet our man Dwight, he’s living in a car, scavenging food out of dumpsters and breaking into people’s houses to wash up. Despite the evidence at hand, he’s no ordinary homeless person. He’s just biding his time. Waiting. Waiting for the news that “he” has been released from jail. Who is he? The man who murdered Dwight’s parents. What Dwight does when he finally gets that news is both shocking and inevitable, and it forms the slim yet sturdy backbone of the blood-soaked revenge tragedy known as Blue Ruin.
Blue Ruin is written and directed by filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier, who delivered the inexpensive-yet-inventive horror-comedy Murder Party back in 2007. His newest change-of-pace offering could be the most authentic crime drama to come out of no-budget indieland since Winter's Bone. The film is an icy, original crime thriller set in the working-class suburbs and picturesque backwoods of the Eastern Seaboard—Virginia, mostly. Grimly efficient and bordering on minimalist, this slow-burn shocker demonstrates as much sangfroid patience as its protagonist. As much attention is paid to the ominous mood-setting as it is to the vivid bursts of violence that punctuate the film’s languorous tension. Rust eats into an aging car frame, lightning flashes across the nighttime sky, family snapshots crowd a cluttered mantelpiece, a shotgun explodes without warning. Imagine, if you can, what it would look like if naturalist filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Wendy and Lucy, Old Joy, Meek's Cutoff) set out to remake Death Wish. That’s the sort of territory we’re in here.
As our ragged, bearded, near-silent protagonist, actor Macon Blair (Hellbenders, Murder Party) manages to be mysterious, compelling and sympathetic. He’s a sad, damaged man whose single-mindedness is the only thing keeping him alive. That he goes looking for vengeance is hardly surprising. But his long-simmering, hastily executed vendetta kicks off a war of reprisals that spins rapidly out of control.
Very little is laid out for the audience. We get only a hint of background information upon which to build our impressions. Nearly all of the script’s slim dialogue shows up in the film’s trailer. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is that Blue Ruin refuses to simplify its characters. Everyone here is flawed, angry and passionate. They’re both right and wrong. It’s easy to identify with them—which makes the film’s unstoppable downward spiral all the more cruel. “I know this is personal,” advises an old high school friend of Dwight’s. “That’s how you’ll fail.” Once that first drop of blood starts flowing, you just know it will be impossible to staunch.
The plot for Blue Ruin is so simple and carried out with such disquieting logic that it’s all but impossible to discuss in detail. It’s an action movie in which all the genre-specific machismo and cathartic explosions have been burned away, leaving only the rawest, skeletal essentials. We have a man. We have a gun. We have a mission. From the poetic title to the closing credits, Blue Ruin is a cold, cruel, artistically minded revenge tragedy that sets out to prove Gandhi’s old adage: An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.