Release Date: April 25th, 2014 (US limited); May 2nd, 2014 (UK)
Starring: Macon Blair
Sitting shielded by penetrable furniture, rifle in hand, Dwight is the embodiment of unrelenting fear and all-consuming retribution. It’s a scene we’ve already watched play out, no more than an hour ago, yet the horrors of Blue Ruin remain just as prominent. Jeremy Saulnier presents a film as blunt as they come in terms of both violence and message; people do bad things, and other people do even worse things as a result. This isn’t humanity’s finest hour, but it’s a damn good one for the visually-affluent filmmaker. If it wasn’t for an outstanding lead turn courtesy of Macon Blair, Blue Ruin would be an impermeable one-man show — Saulnier is writer, cinematographer and director. The pair make quite a duo though, their film a juxtaposition of wonderfully rustic imagery and violently fraught undercurrents. Still clutching his weapon Dwight notices the approaching car headlights, and we realise vehicular beams have never felt so brooding.
Living on the beach, Dwight (Macon Blair) has become a part of the slum-like scenery: bearded, scruffy and wearing only ripped clothing. His 1996 Pontiac — one of Dwight’s only possessions — represents his worn out, rusty self. We don’t know much about him, that is until information gets out regarding the release of Wade Cleland, the accused killer of Dwight’s parents. Like a seldom used tap recently turned on, Dwight’s meandering outlook spurts forth previously concentrated resentment and alters into one driven by the waters of revenge. Consequences are inconsequential until the deed is done, and then they becoming everything.
If the Coen brothers were to create a horror film, you get the feeling that it wouldn’t veer too far from the look and feel of Blue Ruin. Saulnier’s outing never gloats, the subject matter doesn’t allow it, but as one spectacularly furnished competent part after another is relayed on screen you’d be remiss to forgive any slight indication of back-patting. Each element is crafted and honed to appease the next. Visually, the film is visceral and uncompromising in savage outbursts, whilst retaining an organic authenticity during moments of recalculation. The violence is nasty and vulgar, but wholly fitting within the pessimistic context communicated. Otherwise, empty landscapes yield no place for refuge.
Depending on whether Dwight is loading a gun or being enveloped by solitude, the audio either reinforces purpose with metallic verve or reverberates a husky, crackling air. Regardless, the film consistently sounds magnificent. On occasion, we hear a drone of similar ilk to the noise emitted from a lightsaber, only it’s not lively beaming energy, it is rampant tension — the sound of Dwight’s desperation. As Blue Ruin patiently simmers with unease, Dwight hurries, trying to flee from the horrors affronting him but running directly into them instead. Perhaps he does so with a semblance of perverse acceptance compelled by retribution. It’s this ambience of apprehension that keeps us completely fixated to events for ninety minutes, fingernails bearing the brunt.
Technical prowess should come as no surprise, Saulnier is a cinematography graduate after all and his execution here is faultless. However, this is not a case of several parts being greater than the whole. Rather, the excellent individual nuances on display converge together, unfurling a film that should be admired for the having the courage of its convictions. It is almost as if the filmmaker’s precision is intended to mirror Dwight’s own meticulous mindset, one that evolves as he himself develops into an unconventional central character. Forget your anti-heroes, there aren’t any to be found here. Dwight most certainly was a normal customer in the past, but now he bears a murderous foreboding that relentlessly lingers over him: “I’d forgive you if you were crazy, but you’re not… you’re weak,” says a family member upon realising the consequences of Dwight’s ruthless actions. Blue Ruin doesn’t offer anybody to cheer for. There is no right, only wrong, yet you still find yourself caught between a rock and a hard place, rooting for Dwight. Not for him to kill but for him to escape. Moments of light humorous relief are prescribed, though are suitably drowned out by a stern tone.
Subsequently, we’re presented with a fresh take on the revenge thriller. Immorality is convoluted (“It had to be legal”), so much so that you’ll come away with an addictive need to recollect and rethink proceedings. The aforementioned achievements of Saulnier are telling, but Macon Blair’s central turn as Dwight is just as imperative to the film’s success. He articulates wholesome credibility as a man whose demons are within arm’s reach; his performance is full of panic and chaotic determination. During a conversation, the vengeance-seeker admits he is not “used to talking this much” and it is true that Blair spends a significant amount of time acting with observable emotion. As the film progresses, each breath gets hoarser and more sweat permeates. Blair’s raw roadside vomiting exemplifies the incomprehensible situation in which his character finds himself. Yet in spite of this, a genuine anguish escapes from Blair’s eyes, forcing us to empathise with Dwight.
At one point Dwight pays for much-needed items with blood-stained money, unable to explain himself (“I, uh… I…”), the scene illustrating his confused and compromised state of mind. The film itself is far from confused though, purposeful in revealing humanity’s evil side and assured by a dedicated lead performance. Even with only four hours sleep and a hand-cramping geography exam in the bank, Blue Ruin’s noteworthy candidness had me fully attentive. If this doesn’t wake you up, nothing will.