“It’s personal which is why I know you will fail”
In most revenge films a line like this would be played for big laughs. It would be a sign of skepticism from a character on-screen that only strengthens our faith, as an audience, in the plight of the hero. We know that he cannot fail, a wrong must be avenged. The only question that remains is when, not if, the villain will get his comeuppance.
Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin offers no such assurances. We are at the edge of our seats not because of anticipation, but rather uncertainty. By time that piece of wisdom is shared with Saulnier’s bumbling anti-hero, it is unclear if he even has a concrete plan of action. His make it up as he goes along style offers little reassurance that he will succeed.
It indeed screams of pending failure.
A tense and stirring thriller, Blue Ruin takes all the classic archetypes of the revenge genre and strips it down to the bone. There are no flashy moments, no stylized banter, or no seedy underworld to navigate. However, it is in its seemingly simplistic mural of vengeance that Saulnier’s meticulous brush strokes reveal themselves.
Blue Ruin centres around a mysterious beach bum named Dwight (Macon Blair), who spends his days scavenging for food and sleeping in old cars. His lowly existence gets a shot in the arm when he learns of a man’s release from prison. Without hesitation Dwight sets out toward his hometown of Virginia determined to settle an old score.
What did this man do? Why is Dwight so hell-bent to see the man dead?
Slowly peeling away the hardened scab from Dwight’s emotional wound, Saulnier provides just enough information for us to understand the vicious circle of violence at the film’s core. This is not a simple tale of good and evil as we must ponder which side of the coin Dwight’s actions fall on? Blue Ruin is a fascinating exploration of family, sin and justice through the bloody eye-for-an-eye lens. Despite a few gruesome moments, Saulnier’s film never feels exploitive. In fact it feels almost reserved in comparison to its bigger budget brethren.
Much of Blue Ruin’s success is due to Jeremy Saulnier’s overall restraint with the film. He brilliantly refuses to take short cuts or employ gimmicks to keep his plot moving forward. He embraces measured pacing to ensure the film evokes maximum tension. It also helps that Saulnier has a chameleon like Macon Blair holding up his end of the bargain on the performance side of things. Blair is sensational as Dwight, bringing both complexity and naiveté to the role. He expertly conveys that Dwight’s journey was doomed from the minute it started. Dwight is so consumed by hatred that he is too blind to even question if he is actually going after the right man?
Blue Ruin is one of those small cinematic gems that achieves so much by doing so little. It is both an invigorating and meditative examination of the vicious cycle that some families find themselves stuck in.