Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Starring Macon Blair, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, David W. Thompson, Brent Werner, Sidne Anderson
Enveloped in a scent of Coen Bros, Blue Ruin is a masterclass in indie reinvention – reinvention of genre, of character, even of plot subversion. But no matter how familiar the elements we know to comprise revenge flicks, we never exactly know where Blue Ruin is going to turn next. It’s a quiet tirade of doomed duty with explosive showdowns and tactful character arcs that adds up to a hell of a good movie.
Relatively unknown actor Macon Blair heads up the show as Dwight, a vagrant, homeless type with a penchant for breaking into people’s houses to get his bathe on. Living out of a bullet-ridden car, overlooking the ocean and grown over with sandy seagrass, we can immediately reconcile the sad existence of this bearded transient with life gone awry. So when a policewoman (Sidne Anderson) shows up and asks him to come down to the station and reveals that his parent’s killer is getting out of prison early on parole, his recluse desperation clicks with us as fresh-born necessity clicks on for him.
What soon unfolds is an accelerated game of cat and mouse that almost seems to wrap itself up too soon but that’s only when it gets interesting. Following Dwight’s act of self-retribution, we’re lost, oblivious to where things will turn next. Rightfully so, the pathway that twists and turns to the final scene is as unpredictable as it is plainly awesome.Part of the fun of the whole adventure is not knowing that will transpire so I would urge you to learn as little about the film as possible.
Jeremy Saulnier, who wrote and directed the film, has transmuted the greatness of iconically American revenge narratives into something entirely his own. He’s drained his film of the eye-rolling easy outs we’ve seen from so many Hollywood narratives, strained it of incredulity and served it cold and somber, the best, and only way, to do revenge right. His refreshing take on a genre that’s been kicked around in the mud since the birth of storytelling is at once startling and radiant with part of the credit needing to find it’s way to star Macon Blair.
Behind his scraggly beard and muted eyes, Blair is modestly restrained and seeing his transformation, both physically and emotionally, is one of the great joys of this gritty saga. Though he’s had his hands in some other small projects, Blair is a talent who’s never gotten his name out there and I’m willing to bet that after a performance of this magnitude, that’ll be quick changing. His haunted numbness and jumpy brooding bring such well-tempered yet acrimonious life to the character. For a man on a mission, Dwight is about as three dimensional as they get, a godsend born of Saulnier’s able script and Blair’s even-keeled execution.
With foreboding cinematography and an anxious score, both also from Saulnier, that help fill in the blanks of this mysterious back country and the people who inhabit it, everything feels very much real world. But here, things are cloaked in mystery, blanketed in doubt and raging with subtext.
Unexpectedly wonderful, Blue Ruin is the reason why America needs independent cinema. It’s the tap on the shoulder the increasingly derivative Hollywood needs, a gentle, almost soft-spoken, reminder that iconic storytelling traditions are born on foundations of greatness for good reason. Revenge narratives are a dime a dozen but when storytellers are able to really get to the root of why these archetypal tales are so compelling, as Saulnier is able to do here, they strike a collective nerve, making us cheer at their ability to both homage and be wholly original at the same time.