It’s nothing to go to a movie nowadays and see violent content. Punching, kicking, stabbing, shooting. No matter what it is, it can be found in movies. Why? Because violence is a prominent aspect of our culture. There are times when violence in media serves as entertaining fun. One can’t help but enjoy it when Liam Neeson is throat punching baddies throughout the Paris underground. Then there are certain movies that treat violence in a negative way. Movies that hold nothing back when portraying the dark side of violence. And this is one of them. But Blue Ruin doesn’t stop there. It also seems to be sending some sort of message. It isn’t only violence that is addressed, but gun violence in particular. No matter what your stance on the issue, you’ll still find it hard not to be riveted by this small thriller.
It opens with a man, bearded and filthy, rummaging through a house. When hearing noises outside, he takes caution. We assume he is anticipating intruders. On the contrary, we see that he is in fact the intruder. This bearded man is Dwight (Macon Blair), digging through trash and living in his Pontiac (the blue ruin that the title hints at). Dwight is a loner, separated from everyone who ever cared about him, and for one main purpose. His parents were murdered. The plot kicks off when he learns that the man responsible has been released from prison. This fuels some rage in Dwight, and it is at this moment that he embarks on a bloody and surprisingly quiet rampage of revenge-drenched mayhem.
Director/writer/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier has really created something to rave about with Blue Ruin, and if the movie itself isn’t it then it is another case of the devil being in the details. This is a very small movie in both scale and budget. This entire film was funded through Kickstarter, which is an incredible accomplishment for Saulnier and the contributors alike. If you are an aspiring independent filmmaker like me, this may be an option to consider if financial problems are holding you back. The final product of Blue Ruin isn’t one that feels cheap and under-produced, but rather one that feels incredibly tense and raw.
It’s an unsettling film. From the opening shot, the tone is set with a confident hand and it only gets tenser from there. The mostly unknown Macon Blair delivers a deeply haunting performance as Dwight, morphing himself into a character hell-bent on revenge by any means necessary. His movements are slow, his eyes barely move, and he hardly ever speaks, but he does about as good a job at portraying emotion as any actor this year. Dwight eventually meets up with Ben, an old buddy who happens to be a bit of a gun enthusiast. Ben, played by Devin Ratray (he played Buzz McCallister in the first two Home Alone movies, how cool is that?) is introduced as the side character that could break the film down. It doesn’t happen that way. His character quickly develops a soul and reasons to make the audience care about him as a person. The only weak link in the film’s set of small characters is Dwight’s sister, Sam (Amy Hargreaves). Her character seemed to serve only one purpose and her little amount of screen time made her seem a bit insignificant.
But that is only a small issue, and it is the only main problem I had with Blue Ruin. There is so much to like about the movie that the flaws seem almost insignificant while watching. It is filmed with such gritty style that the cinematography itself seems to be a character. Jeremy Saulnier has done a remarkable job at capturing the beauty of griminess, and it hearkens back to its obvious inspirations from movies like No Country for Old Men. The movie has been compared to other Coen-brother films, but it was No Country that came to mind while watching, and this was before I had even heard talk of the Coens-like feel of it. It is filled to the brim with gorgeous filming techniques and focusing, paired up with a good, albeit sometimes predictable script that seems to work just because of the tense directing and powerful performance from Macon Blair. There is a moment in the first act of Blue Ruin when a young boy confronts Dwight, and when asked why he is doing what he is doing he simply says, “He killed my parents.” That is the driving force of it. It’s a revenge thriller through and through.
Quite frankly, it isn’t getting the attention it deserves. It’s a pretty remarkable picture. Just seeing Macon Blair’s conflicted and unprepared Dwight covered in blood, clueless as to what comes next, is a marvel. It’s actually quite sad. You root for Dwight because he is a broken character. You know he should just walk away. But there is a driving passion inside him to avenge his parents that is impossible to ignore. Jeremy Saulnier’s underlying message of gun control is evident, but he never insists on making this a movie about gun control. The message stays under the story. It’s possibly the most violent of any anti-gun themed movie to come along. Blue Ruin is an intense, bleak, and haunting little thriller. Blue Ruin is now streaming on Netflix.