- Movie Rating -

Blue Ruin (2014)

| April 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

John Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a joy to anyone who is utterly bored with the Hollywood revenge fantasy of Jason Bourne and the ridiculous Taken series with Liam Neeson. While those movies are disposable fantasy, Saulneir’s film is about the messy, bloody business of revenge as it might happen to the ordinary person next door who doesn’t have years of training at hand-to-hand combat – or a flock of stunt doubles.

Blue Ruin is a deceptively simple thriller that is so ingenious that it garnered the director a prize at Cannes last year and developed a respectable cult following. It is justified, the script is laid out like a great novel. As the movie opens, we meet an aimless drifter with a heavy beard who makes money selling bottles, eats out of trash cans and lives in the rusted-out blue Pontiac that gives the film its title. For a time we don’t know why we’re following this man whose eyes are an index into a weary heart.

Much of Blue Ruin cannot be discussed without some spoilers, so going forth you’ve been warned.

Piece by piece the man’s story comes into focus. His name is Dwight (Macon Blair) and he’s been on the street ever since his mother and father were murdered some years ago. In the wake of that tragedy, he has created a self-induced exile, spacing himself away from the rest of the world both as a refuge from the pain and also from people who might be looking for him.

One morning he is awakened in his car by a kindly police officer who informs him that Wade Cleland, the man responsible for the murders, has just been released from jail. His eyes begin to dance. His first instinct is to track this man down and kill him, but that’s before we sense a measure of hesitation. He follows Wade from the prison to a club where he will celebrate his release. In the restroom, Dwight instigates a violent encounter that puts Wade’s family on a trajectory of revenge. Only later does he remember an important item that he left at the club which clearly lets the family know that he was there.

What becomes of Dwight is fascinating, and what becomes of his story is an extremely violent and often very funny rumination on the reality of revenge. Dwight is scared to death, not just for himself but for his family. He know that the Cleland method of revenge is blood-coded in the familial hillbilly code of honor and, try as he may, Dwight can’t get himself prepared for war. With his pudgy stature and bug-eyes, he wears a mask of pure terror. Discarding his heavy homeless man beard and donning clean clothes, he looks like a put-upon office functionary and we sense that he has spent a lifetime under the boot of bullies like the Clelands. That’s key because if Dwight were more confident then the movie would lose it’s tension.

What Saulnier has created here is on par with the kind of violence and humor as The Coen Brothers Blood Simple and Fargo. You laugh but there’s a lot of bloodshed. One brilliant scene in particular has Dwight downing three glasses of tap water, the reasons that we don’t immediately understand. The payoff is comic gold. Later, there’s an even bigger laugh when you realize that one of the Cleland family is played by Eve Plumb who played Jan on “The Brady Bunch”

What makes Blue Ruin so special is that Saulnier is more interested in telling a story than staging action. He reveals the story slowly, always seeing the story through Dwight’s eyes so we only know what he knows. There is great attention paid to details that pay off later: a pitchfork, a car battery, an arrow, a automatic timer. There are scenes staged with brilliant precision as when Dwight sneaks into a house late in the film and waits for the resident to come home. It takes days and days, and a paranoid Dwight sits in the dark as we too are shock at how long it is taking.

There is also particular attention paid to the relationships, not in what is said but in how they are constructed. Almost all the characters know each other, but there is a tension between that gives you the feeling of people who have been around one another for years. Early in the film we meet Dwight’s sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and there’s a feeling of siblings who care deeply about each other, but would rather be apart.

Then there’s Dwight’s encounter with an old high school buddy named Ben Gaffney (Devin Ratray) who provides his old schoolmate with a cadre of weapons. Their conversations have the feeling of people who know each other but who have grown apart over the gulf of years. Ratray, best known as Buzz in the first two Home Alone movies, has the best line in the film. After shooting a man, he tells a shocked Dwight “That’s what bullets do.” It sounds simple-minded but it’s a brutal truth.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.