Blue Ruin

Release: Friday, April 25, 2014 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Jeremy Saulnier

Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

From the opening shot silence dominates, ominously foreshadowing a journey fraught with tension and dread. It doesn’t take long to realize that something is wrong, to feel the disconnect between a vagabond and his surroundings. Macon Blair’s Dwight is floating through existence, living out of his car and presumably without a job. The comforts of our typical daily lives feel far out of reach even though they are quite literally right in front of him. Despite his disheveled appearance Dwight seems functional, making use of a few odds and ends to help him get through another day of living on the streets. But he’s clearly a broken man, a scruffy beard and unkempt hair and meals derived from what he can scrape out of trash cans being the most telling.

For at least the opening 20 minutes he remains enigmatic, inspiring an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue. Possibly a bit of frustration too — who is this guy? Empathy towards the homeless isn’t a necessity — if you’re not empathetic I can’t say I blame you as it seems more often than not their plights are derived from a long series of poor life choices — but in this case the issue doesn’t seem to be a history of drug and alcohol abuse. Drama begins in earnest when Dwight receives the news that the man responsible for the murder of both his parents is being released from prison. A policewoman asks him to come into the station, insisting that it’d be better for him to hear this in a safe place rather than being alone on the streets and finding out in the local paper.

Unfortunately the catalyst for the blood-splattering that is to come is less dependent upon the way in which he receives the information as it does upon how he will choose to respond to it.

Given the thrill of the discovery, it’s difficult to talk plot without ruining much of the experience so I vote instead we talk about how good Blair is in the lead. Um, yeah. He’s good. Evoking an emotional instability that borders on madness, Dwight comes across as a surprisingly threatening man even though his ineptitude at handling violent situations may say otherwise. That he’s out of his depth on more than a few occasions is a brilliant manifestation of Blair’s physical performance. This is a role that, rather than relying on extensive dialogue, depends upon how his countenance reflects a steadily more desperate reality. Such change is more often than not subtle but by the end the disparity is noted. It’s an incredible performance, elevating Blue Ruin well above your average revenge tale.

As good as Blair is, however, Jeremy Saulnier might just outdo him. He isn’t just responsible for allowing his lead to flourish under intelligent writing and precise directing, he’s painting a gorgeous backdrop through crisp, colorful cinematography that ironically romanticizes the lush landscape of Virginia, particularly Dwight’s hometown, a sleepy hollow interrupted by violence. Thickly forested hills serve as creative conceals for confrontations that don’t necessarily play out the way you might expect. In this film, Virginia is not for lovers; it is for survivors. It is for men who stand very little to lose.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, and in Saulnier’s minimalist portraiture of a life gone awry it arrives upon a frozen plate.

Recommendation: Blue Ruin is a great example of minimalist storytelling. Dialogue-lite, it’s far more concerned with body language and subtle visual clues to keep viewers constantly engaged. The violence it does feature is rather vivid but it, too, is limited to moments that tend to be extremely effective. I loved this film, but I can see others having a problem with its deliberate build-up. It’s not heavy on action but it is heavy on great acting and beautiful cinematography. Give it a shot sometime. E-hem. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “I would forgive you if you were crazy. But you’re not. You’re weak.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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27 thoughts on “Blue Ruin

  1. I discovered this on DVD after hearing quite a bit of positive buzz. I wrote a review Feb 2015. The film doesn’t revolutionize the genre, but the simple saga is artfully told.

    • Sorry about the delayed response, a lot of comments right now seem to be getting tossed into my Spam folder.

      No the film isn’t a game-changer but man is it well-told and incredibly skillfully acted! It also looks really good. I’ll go back and make sure I haven’t already commented on your piece. I remember when this was blowing up on WP, it made me want to see it immediately. Glad I finally got to.

  2. Hi ya Tom! Catching up w/ your posts here but it seems that the last three films you reviewed aren’t my cup of tea, sorry! I think as I get older I just don’t have the nerves for these bloody & intense films like this one, especially Serbian Films which probably will give me nightmares for life. I like the fact that this one is more of a slow-burn and minimalist in its approach, I can see why people love it.

    • No need to apologize Ruth, I blame no one for not being keen on seeing (or even reading about) A Serbian Film. Quite frankly I am surprised by the response that piece has gotten. It’s such an absurdly angry and violent film. I don’t tend to go for things that dark, and as you may or may not know I tend to review films that have come out in the last calendar year. That’s an example of one I had to talk about just because it’s so extreme.

      On Blue Ruin — yes, this is a great little exercise in minimalism. Fantastic stuff, I thought. 🙂

  3. Right out of eight review of an eight out of eight (in my opinion) film. I’m so excited to see where this director goes from here. Very astutely written as always Tom!

    • Dude I know I was so torn between the 7 and the 8 here. I lowered it since the story *ultimately* is a standard revenge tale. Albeit, there’s a lot of surprises along the way that make you forget that fact easily. At the end of the day the rating is academic, this one is a really really well-made movie. I’m so glad Netflix has it for my viewing pleasure. I too am excited to see what’s next for these people.

  4. Awesome that you loved this one Tom!! This i think is a perfect example of where a low budget can up the creativity that goes into a film. Great post man, love this movie.

    • 100% my man, Blue Ruin is damn near perfect in my book, especially given its minimalist approach and low profile. I absoultey loved it. Debated the perfect score for awhile but idk if it is quite perfect. Great to hear I’m not alone on this.

  5. Good to see more praise for this. Proof that a genre film with no added bells and whistles can still be hugely enjoyable if done well, right? I agree Blair is excellent in the lead role and look forward to more from Saulnier…there are some great tense moments in this film.

    • Yes there are! Oh man, I am so glad Netflix had this. I was so upset I had missed this in theaters awhile back. (I’m not entirely sure that we even got it in my area.) Still, the wait was worth it. Macon Blair and Jeremy Saulnier clearly make a formidable team. And I loved the setting. It was so grounded in a southern culture. Loved this thing.

  6. One of my favorite films from last year, absolutely amazing. You should track down Saulnier’s first film Murder Party, it’s a real treat. Also, I’m hearing his next film The Green Room is another hit, so that’s definitely something to keep an eye on.

    • Hell yeah man, the wait was worth it for me. I’ve wanted to see Murder Party for awhile as well, I’ll definitely keep a keen eye out. Thanks for the heads up for The Green Room, I’m unaware of that. Blue Ruin is a certainly promising little film, I think Jeremy Saulnier is an extremely talented filmmaker.

    • Ah man, that’s a shame. But like I pointed out in the recommendation, I think the pacing and minimal usage of action and really, dialogue, could prove problematic. Not sure if those were elements that threw you off but I’m not surprised this film doesn’t appease everyone. I really thought it was top notch though.

      • I actually liked the minimal action because it was unexpected and really great when it happened, one thing that the director probably picked up from the Coens but the story didn’t work all that well for me and I wasn’t particularly impressed by the acting either.

    • Thanks for stopping on in Bubba, yeah I thought this was a great example of small budgets producing a worthwhile little indie thriller. I absolutely dug it and am glad I got to see it finally.

  7. Great review if a great movie! This was way up in my Top 10 of 2014. I found it to be the best thriller of 2014 showing that true creativity doesn’t need big budgets or top stars. So, so good. Really glad you liked it!

    • Thanks a lot friend. I wish I had gotten to this sooner, it would have had a chance of making my Year End mock awards-ceremony haha. This was a total blast, well worth the wait. Macon Blair and Jeremy Saulnier should do more things together.

        • He really did, it’s one of the more impressive performances I’ve seen in a minute. Deeply emotional and understated all at the same time. And physically it was interesting as well, especially after the 20-ish minute mark

    • I loved the way the narrative constantly kept us in the dark! The revenge plot has been done time and time again, but here’s a way where it can really be revitalized. Blue Ruin is a super solid flick. Dark and gritty, well-acted and stripped back. Truly a winner in my book!

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