Published on May 16th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
In Jeremy Saulneir’s Kickstarter funded revenge thriller Blue Ruin, the director explores messy revenge and gun culture in a Coen Brothers’ manner to great success.
If you ask a homicide detective, they’ll tell you that most amateur murderers make a lot of mistakes in the heat of the moment. Through a combination of being ill-prepared and losing their wits during the act, an untrained killer will leave behind a bevy of clues, from fingerprints to telltale signs in the phone records. In director Jeremy Saulnier’s family crime film, Blue Ruin, Macon Blair plays Dwight, a scraggly drifter who lets the wind blow him back to the town he’s from in order to dish out an ice cold plate of revenge. Once a series of Hatfield vs. McCoy events are set into motion, Dwight must protect his estranged family from a Rube Goldberg machine of stark violence.
The quickest and easiest comparison that one can make with Blue Ruin is The Coen Brothers, who sometimes dwell in this realm of sloppy murder tales. However, Blue Ruin runs alongside Blood Simple more than something like Fargo. While it would be easy to assume that Dwight is a derpy Jerry Lundegaard, it would be less accurate. If anything, Dwight is like you and I (well, assuming you and I are as smart as we think we are). He’s not bungling big plans — he’s reacting too quickly through emotion, like spilling milk, getting in a fender bender, or making a mistake calculating the tip in his head. He’d leave a nice trail of clues behind at a murder scene (and in fact, he does).
The film begins ominously, with music pulsing over top of some of the dialogue, leaving us to glance at bits of exposition. It reminded me of the newspaper clippings on the wall behind Clive Owen in one of the scenes in Children of Men that explain what happened to the world without beating us over the heads with it. This brilliant economy of information is continued in the camerawork and storytelling; like panels from a comic book, we see Dwight peering through a bathroom stall door, or a tight shot of his hand shaking, gripping a knife. The camera takes any opportunity to push in ever so slightly, as if we are leaning in to better hear or see, wisely growing the tension.
The decision to turn Dwight from scruffy hobo to a clean cut, sort of chubby, unassuming guy works well, playing against the cool, dark drifter motif. Instead, he’s a middle-aged, sad-eyed, khaki-wearing Rambo. With shades of The Crossing Guard (without the ‘will he or won’t he’), Dwight wrestles with his killing task, but settles into the sad realization that he has to do what he has to do to in order to protect his family.
The intensity of brilliance ebbs and flows as the movie unfolds, but it’s mostly a highly impressive affair, with some smart twists throughout. I had a problem with the motivations of Dwight’s old chum Ben (played by Devin Ratray, Buzz in Home Alone, and one of the dumb cousins in Nebraska). He seems to sign on with very little motivation to be both accomplice and murderer himself. Perhaps I’m missing a key point of the film in portraying how crazy hillbillies entrenched in a gun culture can be? Virginia, where the film takes place, is renowned for its lax firearm laws, and the movie is most certainly making a sly comment on that. Perhaps I just answered my own question.
Either way, revenge can be cut and dried, but Dwight’s journey is a messy affair and Blue Ruin captures that well. So well, in fact, that this Kickstarter funded film not only introduced a new voice to the world, but also gleaned the FIPRESCI Prize [Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique] at Cannes. At its best moments, it’s a film worthy of film school study, and even in its weaker moments, it’s still a well-told yarn.