Blue Ruin (2014)

Blue Ruin (2014)

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Rule #1: Never look nervous when holding a gun.
Rule #1: Never look nervous when holding a gun.

Twitter Plot Summary: When eye for an eye vengeance goes slightly awry, amateur killer Dwight has to protect his family from slightly less amateur killers.

Five Point Summary:

1. If you’re homeless, you’ll always have an epic beard.
2. Just for once, stitching your own leg actually makes it worse.
3. Never mess with rednecks.
4. If you’re going to use a gun, at least but good at it.
5. Building a fort in a house is clearly the thing to do.

Sitting watching Blue Ruin is an experience, likely to be one where you find yourself glancing to see how far you’re into it after what seems like 20 minutes, only to discover that an hour has passed. This is usually indicative of a quality film, where time is irrelevant and 50 minutes feels like 5. Cleverly playing with the standard concepts of the traditional revenge thriller template, Blue Ruin’s protagonist, Dwight, is a homeless man who discovers that a man from his past has been released from prison, and Dwight takes it upon himself to seek vengeance for wrongs previously committed against his family. Over the course of the film the stakes escalate to the point where, through his own general incompetence, Dwight has put his estranged family – his sister and her kids – at risk of similar levels of redemptive eye for an eye style vengeance.

Dwight, played by Macon Blair, is completely the opposite of the figure we’d usually expect to meet in these circumstances. Under the mass of hair he’s a weedy man, coming across as nervous and skittish more often than not. His own inability to do anything properly also turns out to be the reason why he ends up as deep into it as transpires, inadvertently leading his attackers to his sister’s home, or his inability to shoot a target that is a few feet away from him being two key examples. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have at least a modicum of intelligence, just that he often lacks the practical skills to implement it.

The direction from Jeremy Saulnier deserves praise, displaying most efficiently the concept of “show don’t tell”. The opening 20 minutes are almost entirely wordless, yet the story doesn’t drag and you know exactly where the characters are, both physically and emotionally, from their actions and a clever use of scene setting. It’s easy to believe in the characters and the situation, with events developing organically as the stakes grow more urgent, and the fractured psyches of everyone involved becomes more apparent.

The pig had not gone quietly into the night.
The pig had not gone quietly into the night.

The script meanwhile is adept at subverting our expectations and the tropes of the revenge thriller drama – the police are kindly sorts rather than imposing authority figures, and an attempt at stitching a wound on your own leg, without medical assistance, just makes matters worse. You wouldn’t expect Rambo or John Matrix from Commando making such a pig’s ear of it. Even the finale plays with our expectations, building and building to what is apparently destined to be an epic showdown and instead ambles off in a different direction and chooses something much more low key yet equally as gripping. By it every nature, keeping things small scale and somewhat more intimate is what sets Blue Ruin apart from its revenge thriller brethren, and is what cements it as an essential film in the genre. The cast is kept to a bare minimum and everybody we meet in the story serves a purpose.

It’s frequently these lower budget movies that have the power to grip its audience, and Blue Ruin certainly does that from start to finish. Given its tortured route to the big screen, it’s likely gratifying to all involved that the end result is as polished and impressive as it is. Whilst it’s unlikely to recoup its money during its cinema run, with any luck it will find its audience when it receives its DVD/Blu-Ray release. Suffice to say, it will be much deserved.

Score: 4/5

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