Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgBlue Ruin had been on my “movies to see” list for the better part of a year. The American independent debuted at the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film festival in 2013. It later toured the festival circuit where it racked up accolades in the form of positive word-of-mouth.  It got an extremely limited theatrical release coupled with a simultaneous video on demand (VOD) release in April 2014. DVD release followed in July 2014.

Dwight Evans is a sad sack of a man. He starts off looking like a homeless vagrant. Perhaps a “beach bum” is a more poetic way of describing his situation. He sleeps in a “blue ruin” of a car – a broken down old Pontiac Bonneville. Actor Macon Blair is Dwight, an unknown lead chosen because of his longtime friendship with the director since childhood. That’s not to say the unassuming fellow isn’t well cast because those unpolished qualities perfectly define this character. As the chronicle develops we realize there is much more to this man than meets the eye. For long stretches of this efficient 90 minute thriller, it’s virtually dialogue free. Blair is given some horrific news and he decides to act on this information. He’s a shell of a man, and so we can’t help but care.

A straightforward account of getting even is all this is but it’s imbued with such humanity. We are emotionally wrapped up in the stakes. How will Dwight accomplish what he wants? Can he get away with it? Will he survive? Much has been written about this classic tale of revenge from movie pundits. Some going so far as to mention director Jeremy Saulnier in the same breath as the Coen Brothers. There’s certainly a similarity with the Coens’ debut Blood Simple – that is, extracting dark comedy from a criminal plot. His plan goes horribly wrong in every way that a plan can go wrong. For example, he slashes the tires of his enemy’s car then realizes he must steal that car after leaving his keys at the scene of the crime. That’s tragic, but it’s also funny. when Dwight can’t hit a target that is only 2 feet away, it can relieve some of the tension, even in the most intense situations. The production strikes a nice balance between the two.

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier understands the viewer should sympathize with the “hero” in order for us to be invested in his plight. You can appreciate Dwight’s emotionally damaged vagabond. I’m not so sure we should be rooting for him, but we do. He has suffered deeply. Now he is tormented by deep sorrow and so he has our sympathy. Yet his quest is made more captivating in the way it’s told, giving the audience pieces to make us root for the protagonist without really knowing everything. Even by the end, we never really know the complete story, just enough to understand what’s happening in the moment. Bursts of violence are used. Blue Ruin occasionally falls victim to excess. More restraint in the bloodshed department would’ve been appreciated. An extended scene where Macon digs an arrow out of his leg is gratuitous in its desire to shock. Storytelling is a craft. Blue Ruin does indeed have an artistic way of telling an uncomplicated tale. It doesn’t revolutionize the genre. It’s a simple saga, artfully told.

02-04-15

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17 Responses to “Blue Ruin”

  1. Nice review. This was my favorite thriller from last year. Absolutely love the movie and it easily made its way onto my Top 10. I love seeing more people giving it a look.

    • Yeah it was very good. I didn’t find this tale of revenge particularly revelatory, but it was a great example of efficient filmmaking on a shoestring budget.

      • For me the revenge aspect has a great little twist, mainly that it’s being carried out by the most awkward and ill fitted guy. He literally has no idea what he is doing and seems to be making it all up as he goes. I found that to be pretty fascinating.

  2. This was quite suspenseful and intense. Wish there was a little backstory to past events, but that’s ok. I enjoyed it anyway. 3 1/2 stars.

  3. Good review, Mark. I loved this little flick. I found it absolutely gripping but it also had a humanity, like you mention. One of last years true highlights!

  4. Good review, but as you already know, I disagree. Except here: “Even by the end, we never really know the complete story, just enough to understand what’s happening in the moment. Bursts of violence are used. Blue Ruin occasionally falls victim to excess.” I guess I can see how the violence and the semi-revealed plot can be considered artful, but I just found it confusing and way, way too violent.

    • I didn’t mind the lack of info which I think actually kind of helped the slight story. The drama is constructed to extract intensity to maximum effect. That can be very entertaining.

      • I know what you mean. I’m a real sucker for stories that reveal themselves gradually rather than immediately. I just thought that was done to excess in Blue Ruin.

  5. Good review Mark. It’s so simple, that it actually really works.

  6. Blue Ruin has been on my list for a while as well. Haven’t gotten around to it yet. Although it was one of my friend’s favorite films from last year and now I know why, “For long stretches of this efficient 90 minute thriller, it’s virtually dialogue free.” He’s the kind of guy who loves quiet movies with little dialogue. I don’t know if that always works for me, but I do love stories about revenge, so who knows I might like this one. You’ve certainly mentioned enough positive qualities to entice me into seeing it.

  7. This was a really pleasant surprise. Macon Blair gave one of my favorite performances of the year.

    Also, didn’t expect him to shave so early.

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