Revenge thrillers are all a bit morally suspect, ranging from switch off your moral compass and enjoy the ride (Desperado, Mad Max, Taken) to being genuinely uncomfortable to watch (Death Wish, Last House on the Left). Considering how many revenge thrillers are out there, very few of them take the time to scrutinise their hero’s actions. Jeremy Saulnier’s latest, Blue Ruin, breaks the mould; its short running time teeming with subtext.
Dwight (Macon Blair) is homeless, spending his days inside his rusting Pontiac (the Blue Ruin of the title), only venturing outside to scavenge dumpsters for food. When a police officer tells Dwight that the man convicted of murdering his parents is being released from prison, Dwight sets out for revenge.
There is so much that makes Blue Ruin stand out amongst the thrillers you’ll see in 2014. First off, there is no background, no explanation given as to how Dwight ended up this way, or why he feels he has to kill a man who served his time in prison. There are no flashbacks, no monologues; instead we are shown clues throughout the film, piecing together what is happening. Dwight is shown reading a book by torchlight in the back of his car, suggesting he has not always been homeless. When Dwight tells his sister that he killed the man who murdered their parents, she cries, the only words she is able to say being, “I hope he suffered.”
Macon Blair’s performance is one of the best you will see all year. Dwight isn’t Charles Bronson or Jean Reno, he’s an ordinary man who makes mistakes. Only managing to find a small amount of money, Dwight tries buying a gun, but can’t afford one (everyone in America has the right to defend their home, so long as they’ve got the money). Instead, he breaks into cars, taking the first gun he finds, but the gun has a lock on it. In a heart-breaking scene, Dwight desperately tries to break the lock, instead forced to throw the gun away. With most revenge thrillers, you are made to root for the protagonist, like it or not. In Blue Ruin, Blair makes Dwight a sympathetic lead, telling us so much about the character through his expressions, like his doleful-looking eyes. At no point does Dwight make a convincing killer; he looks frightened, questioning whether he can even go through with this. There are times where Dwight looks like he is barely holding it together. He expected to kill the man who murdered his parents and that would be it; he didn’t expect this man’s family and friends to come after him.
Saulnier does an impressive job with the visuals and sound design, bringing to mind John Carpenter’s early films such as Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13. Almost every frame surrounds Dwight with space where anyone could attack him. There is scarcely any music, Saulnier instead relying on natural sound and, most of all, silence to mount the tension.
Many critics have mentioned the violence in Blue Ruin. There isn’t all that much gore in the film, but when it does happen it’s wince inducing stuff; not because it’s over-the-top, but because of how realistic it is. This isn’t a Quentin Tarantino stylised bloodbath, Saulnier wants audiences to be repelled by Dwight’s actions. The scene in Blue Ruin that will get everyone squirming is Dwight removing an arrow from his thigh. Dwight made his choice, Saulnier not flinching in showing us the consequences of making that choice.
You get out what you put into Blue Ruin. Some people will see it as ninety-minutes about a bodged-up revenge killing, and go back to watching Kill Bill. If you like an intelligent, rule-breaking film where the more you watch it, the more you read into it, then you can’t afford to miss this. Blue Ruin is smart, subtle, suspenseful stuff, with a Cormac McCarthy-style ending you will be left thinking about long after you’ve seen it.
5 out of 5