Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack
In a world littered with brash marketing campaigns and Internet spoilers, the element of surprise, which remains so integral to the movie-going experience, is generally all but lost in contemporary filmmaking. Blue Ruin arrives in cinemas upon a wave of critical acclaim; praised for its subversive storytelling, gnawing tension, and assured central performance. All are undoubtedly present and correct, but they fail to highlight the film’s finest element. Much like its main character, Blue Ruin’s masterstroke is an unforeseen power. Unlike many modern films, it has the ability to shock, astonish, and ultimately, surprise you.
From the outset, director Jeremy Saulnier (who also wrote & photographed the film) continuously lulls both his audience and his lead into a false sense of security. We begin with a slow tracking shot through a typically ornate family home in the American suburbs. Within we find Dwight, whose bedraggled ginger beard and pale complexion do not suggest a life of domestic bliss. However, he’s clearly comfortable within his surroundings, until the sound of a car approaching causes his peace to be replaced by panic, a man concerned by what is outside trying to get in. Moments later we see Dwight hurriedly exit through a nearby window, revealing him to not be the owner, but the intruder.
In an almost entirely wordless opening, Saulnier meticulously draws-out his character’s bleak existence. Living out of a bullet-ridden Pontiac, Dwight’s life is one spent in isolation from the world around him; he’s a drifter with no one to turn to and nowhere to go. However, the news that a man responsible for the death of his parents is to be released from prison ignites a flame within this timid traveller, with Dwight taking to the open road intent on avenging his parent’s deaths.
Blurring the lines between intimate character study and bloody revenge thriller, Saulnier slowly begins to weave a richly textured parable on the effects of violence and death. That the film manages to narratively cover what any typical revenge flick would within the opening act speaks volumes of the filmmaker’s vision. Saulnier is a writer just as concerned with characters as he is with story, unafraid to examine the psychologically damaging after-effects of taking another man’s life. Along the way, there are also fairly astute comments made about America’s gun-culture and their right the bare arms; Dwight’s comment on how so much blood had been spilled over something comparatively inconsequential chillingly highlights the animalistic society that drives the world’s most powerful country.
Macon Blair’s magnificent multi-layered performance effectively channels the many elements of Saulnier’s script. Unlike the majority of revenge flicks that litter the box-office, the main character here is not one who develops an insatiable thirst for violence, but one simply determined to avenge what he has lost and protect what he has, by any means necessary. Throughout, the cold reality of his actions fails to build Dwight’s strength. His bumbling brushes with violence are as equally shocking to him as they are to the viewer. Saulnier masterly harnesses such moments to employ different emotional responses from the audience. He’s unafraid to show the stark reality of killing, but also happy to draw quiet moments of dark humour from Dwight’s situation.
That blend of darkly tinged comedy, visceral violence and intimate character portrait has caused many critics to rightly draw comparisons between Saulnier and the Coen Brothers. However, Saulnier deserves to be commended as a director in his own right. From behind the lens, the director bathes his story in many shades of blue, a colour that ironically represents peace and tranquility. Here it epitomises a life Dwight is slowly slipping further and further away from.
In light of the many highly publicised shootings that have befallen America of late, the film’s final message of how violence doesn’t solve problems could be considered forced. Yet the way Saulnier so naturally exudes his opinions feels sincere, even admirable. Both intelligent and exciting, Blue Ruin is a beacon of light in a genre that generally finds its brains merely splattered across the screen.