’71 (2014)


'71 PosterDirector: Yann Demange

Release Date: 10th October, 2014 (UK); February 27th, 2015 (US limited)

Genre: Action; Drama; Thriller

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Sean Harris, Richard Dormer, Charlie Murphy

Yann Demange’s ’71 centres on the exploits of a British Army regiment deployed in Belfast shortly after the onset of The Troubles. More precisely, it tails separated officer Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) as he roams the city’s broken pavements during one of the most volatile periods in Northern Ireland’s history. “Catholics and Protestants living side by side at each other’s throats,” is the takeaway from a brief history lesson. What follows is an all too resonant practical class.

The lesson also informs us of the Falls Road, Belfast’s very own Berlin Wall, and the flats that occupy said road — turns out these have been rented with force by the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Catholic side of the conflict. Hook’s regiment is allied with the Protestant side, though working relationships do exist between less extreme members of each division. The British Army are in Belfast to alleviate homegrown conflict, apparently, but when an arms raid goes wrong Hook finds himself alone and in dire straits.

The streets look suitably war-scarred: plumes of black smoke emanating from bombed artefacts constantly pollute the air and the pavements are stained with charred rubble. At the beginning of the film, we see the squad’s intense training regime via a collection of vignettes kinetically sewn together by editor Chris Wyatt (his efforts emphasise just how gruelling the occupation is). These vignettes also promote teamwork, endurance, and the need to fulfil objectives no matter the cost. When the action kicks off, the implementation of such a tough training schedule is quickly justified — a Children of Men-esque chase sequence through decrepit buildings missing internal walls and any sense of homeliness attests to that.

Both factions are shown to be as bad as each other. Soldiers treat women and children (and men) unethically while IRA crowds attack them with bricks, and worse. An atmosphere of hatred fills the screen and the film bloodily obliges, depicting barbarous acts with gruesome consequences. Even apparent teammates struggle to get along: danger is literally around every corner, funded mostly by Provisional IRA youths who refuse to take direction from David Wilmot’s senior IRA member. There isn’t enough time to sufficiently define secondary characters, though Wilmot is effective. So too is Sean Harris, who facially muscles his way through the piece as British Army Captain Sandy Browning.

I was reminded of Lexi Alexander’s football hooligan drama Green Street throughout: pubs recalibrated as bases; untameable urban infection; youngsters shadily mentored; unruly masses bombarding boulevards. The difference is ’71 works on a more striking level because the stakes are far higher. Despite this, good also prevails on both sides. “You’re just a piece of meat to them,” says one kind-hearted stranger to Hook, referring to the latter’s army superiors. Said stranger is Eamon (Richard Dormer), a passer-by who treats Hook in his home with the help of his daughter (Charlie Murphy) despite their ideological differences. He’s right too; faceless pawns dominate both sides in a personal war fought through impersonal battles.

Corey McKinley has a short and feisty stint as a young Loyalist child, adding a dash of humour to proceedings. Jack O’Connell conveys enough humanity through his actions and speech for us to root for him, though his goodness is primarily bolstered by the evil prerogative of those around him. In focusing its efforts almost exclusively on its cat-and-mouse narrative, the film’s straightforward approach doesn’t leave much room for deep thought, though a few thematic layers are in there for those after something more extensive to chew on (shades of grey, violence breeding violence etc).

David Holmes’ pulsating score ratchets up the existing tension to an even greater level — this tension, coupled with the film’s revenge-thriller element, reflects Jeremy Saulnier’s taut indie darling Blue Ruin. And much like Blue Ruin, ’71 benefits from some assured directorial guidance. Demange flirts with psychological horror (a chilliness assisted in large part by the eerie nighttime setting), but the film is a thriller at heart and a damn good one.

It can be difficult to keep track of the various warring factions’ motives and the conclusion doesn’t offer much in the way of a relieving resolution (given the film is set at the beginning of The Troubles, this can’t really be helped). “It was a confused situation,” rings out towards the end and ’71 attests to exactly that in its presentation of an unstable Northern Ireland. The film itself is far from confused though, playing with a confident directness and winning as a result.

'71 - Jack O'Connell

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): StudioCanal

Oscars 2015 — Final Predictions

Oscars 2015

Don’t we all just love the Oscars? It’s an evening of maniacal celebration, of gratuitous back-patting, of cringe-worthy speech-making and of hosts trying to grasp the latest social trend – I’m looking at you, selfie Ellen. The folks over in Hollywood might “really like” Sally Field, but they’re not quite as fond of Selma or Nightcrawler, and goodness knows how fond they are of American Sniper (hopefully not as much as many fear).

All joking aside, Academy Awards night is a big one for the film industry. The movies nominated are, for the most part, pretty damn good too and should be heralded on a grand stage. Tonight’s ceremony is looking fairly clear-cut in most categories, but there are still a few ambiguities to be sorted.

Better get on with some predictions then. Click on the appropriate film titles for reviews.

Best Picture

American Sniper



The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Imitation Game


The Theory of Everything


– Will win: Boyhood

– Should win: Boyhood

– Should’ve been nominated: Interstellar

Oscars 2015 - Boyhood

Best Director

Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Birdman)

Bennett Miller (Foxcatcher)

Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game)

Richard Linklater (Boyhood)

Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel)

– Will win: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

– Should win: Richard Linklater

– Should’ve been nominated: Christopher Nolan (Interstellar), Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin)

Oscars 2015 - Inarritu

Best Actor

Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)

Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)

Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Steve Carell (Foxcatcher)

– Will win: Michael Keaton

– Should win: Eddie Redmayne

– Should’ve been nominated: David Oyelowo (Selma), Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)

Oscars 2015 - Keaton

Best Actress

Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything)

Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

Marion Cotillard (Two Days, One Night)

Reese Witherspoon (Wild)

Rosumand Pike (Gone Girl)

– Will win: Julianne Moore

– Should win: Rosamund Pike

– Should’ve been nominated: Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow)

Oscars 2015 - Moore

Best Supporting Actor

Edward Norton (Birdman)

Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)

J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher)

Robert Duvall (The Judge)

– Will win: J.K. Simmons

– Should win: J.K. Simmons

– Should’ve been nominated: Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher), Andy Serkis (DotPotA)

Oscars 2015 - Simmons

Best Supporting Actress

Emma Stone (Birdman)

Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)

Laura Dern (Wild)

Meryl Streep (Into the Woods)

Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

– Will win: Patricia Arquette

– Should win: Patricia Arquette

– Should’ve been nominated: Carrie Coon (Gone Girl)

Oscars 2015 - Arquette

Best Adapted Screenplay

American Sniper

The Imitation Game

Inherent Vice

The Theory of Everything


– Will win: The Imitation Game

– Should win: Whiplash

– Should’ve been nominated: Gone Girl

Oscars 2015 - TIG

Best Original Screenplay




The Grand Budapest Hotel


– Will win: Birdman

– Should win: Boyhood

– Should’ve been nominated: Guardians of the Galaxy

Oscars 2015 - Birdman

Final Thoughts

It looks as though the only real tussle – and it’s a big one – will be between Boyhood and Birdman for Best Picture. They’ll probably split the top award and Best Director between them, though Boyhood and Linklater deserve both.

Michael Keaton might yet nab Best Actor from Eddie Redmayne and despite the bookies favouring the Brit after his BAFTA triumph, I fancy the American to win in the US (cynical me).

As far as the other three acting categories go, Julianne Moore, J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette are all shoe-ins. The latter two fully deserve to win. Still Alice still hasn’t hit cinemas over here in the UK therefore I have yet to see Moore’s performance, but I just can’t look past Rosamund Pike’s stunning turn in Gone Girl. Pike should win. She won’t.

The biggest snubs of the year are probably Interstellar and Nightcrawler. David Oyelowo absolutely should be contention for Best Actor (he should probably win it, in truth) but at least Selma has top table nomination. With ten possible slots in the Best Picture category, the dismissal of Interstellar and Nightcrawler is unjustified.

Carrie Coon should feel aggrieved to be missing out on a Best Supporting Actress nomination, as should Channing Tatum in the Best Supporting Actor – or even Best Actor – category. It has been a strong year for the actors to be fair. And a word too for Blue Ruin, one of 2014’s less well-known masterstrokes.

If you’re watching, enjoy the show!

Oscars 2015 Best Picture

Images credit: ColliderHollywood Reporter, Indiewire

Top 10 Films of 2014

Have you guys seen that new Star Wars trailer? Or the Jurassic Park one? How crazy was Arrow’s mid-season finale? Better than what Agents of SHIELD had to offer? Or The Flash’s showing? The Walking Dead killed more people! Dave Bautista and Léa Seydoux are in Bond 24, and it’s called Spectre – spooky! Idris Elba might be in Bond 25 – funny!

Disney and Warner Bros are releasing around seventy-one Marvel and DC films over the next decade! Unless Pete has another Middle-earth itch, The Hobbit saga finally finished! Jennifer Lawrence is the year’s highest grossing actor! And those damn North Koreans cancelled The Newsroom… at least I think that’s what happened.

Phew. Now that we’ve caught up on all of the most important things to have happened in life over the last two months, let’s take a look at the year as a whole. In July, I posted my top ten films of 2014 up until then. (You can read that here). The final whistle is about to go on the second half of the year. What, if anything, will make the cut? Oh, drama!

I’ll be sticking to UK release dates – the likes of Birdman, Foxcatcher and Selma aren’t out over here yet. I also haven’t seen Boyhood, but I reckon that’s the only significant omission. Click on any film title to read my review.

EDIT: I have now seen Boyhood. If you read my review, you’ll probably be able to guess where it would end up on this list.

10. Edge of Tomorrow

Edge of Tomorrow is the only film I’ve seen twice at the cinema this year. And for good reason; it’s an intelligent and engaging piece that could’ve easily gone awry. Director Doug Liman takes a chance by plucking Tom Cruise from the top of Hollywood’s good guy pile and dropping him face first on set as the slippery Major William Cage. Of course, Cruise resorts to his heroic norm soon enough, but not before the brilliant Emily Blunt gives him a few kickings.

Edge of Tomorrow - Cruise and Blunt 2

9. The Guest

Speaking of iffy characters, this year Dan Stevens’ soldier is the pick of the bunch. The Guest is Adam Wingard’s best film to date and that is in no small part down to Stevens’ magnificent work as a mysterious visitor who somewhat miraculously charms his way into the Peterson household without much in the way of credentials. Stevens and fellow star Maika Monroe are fairly new to the big screen, and on the evidence of this retro-thriller we’ll be seeing a lot more of them both.

The Guest = Stevens

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Steve Rodgers does his best James Bond impression in The Winter Soldier, the first Marvel film to truly break away from a standard that might’ve been becoming generic. Its influence can be traced back to films based around Cold War politics and the aforementioned espionage range, but that’s not to say The Winter Solider loses its superhero drive. In his third credited appearance Chris Evans nails it as the red, white and blue shield-tosser. (As in thrower of protective instrument and not, well… you know).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Chris Evans

7. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Matt Reeves’ sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes looks incredible, even by the lofty standards set in our technology age. But this is more than simply a visual wonderment, it’s also genuinely moving. Though Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar is unlikely to earn him a golden statuette – in truth, those early rumblings were probably unfairly devoid of much foundation – the actor cements his position as peerless when it comes to motion capture acting. He deserves recognition, as does Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as one of the year’s best blockbusters.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Caesar

6. 12 Years a Slave

Critically-speaking, this is probably the most important film of 2014. Steve McQueen’s movie is an eternally tough watch because we are an eternally flawed species. You’ll do well to find any flaws throughout this offering though, for 12 Years a Slave is an unyielding masterstroke. It rightly won Best Picture back in March and, in truth, wouldn’t look out of place far higher on this list.

5. Gone Girl

We never really know where David Fincher is about to take us during Gone Girl, and as much as our minds are racing attempting to put those pieces together, we never really want to know either. It’s all just so creepy and insane. The director pulls no punches and lives up to his obsessive nature – everything looks pristine, adding to the unsettling aura. Rosamund Pike delivers the best performance of the year and Ben Affleck is quite exceptional too.

Gone Girl - Pike

4. Blue Ruin

I viewed Blue Ruin in a sparsely populated screening room, having entered carrying a brain filled less with critical expectation than a need for sleep. I didn’t sleep. Instead, I intently watched the tautest 90 minutes of the year play out, headlined by a manically normal Macon Blair. This revenge tale harkens back to Hitchcockian cinema; simple, frenetic and nail-biting.

Blue Ruin - Blair

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis placed third in my January-July top ten, behind Blue Ruin and 12 Years a Slave. Now that the last twelve months have collectively drawn to a close, and without the benefit of having re-watched any of the three, Inside Llewyn Davis has won out as the film that continues to reverberate in my mind with the most fondness. It must be down to Oscar Isaacs’ enchanting tones. Or the Coen brothers’ musky setting. This film is also the least bleak of the trio. Hurray for holiday spirit!

2. Guardians of the Galaxy

If The Winter Soldier bucked the generic Marvel trend, Guardians of the Galaxy entered another universe. James Gunn is given the most energetic and interactive cast of the year to work with, so he has them dancing in plant pots and making jokes about Kevin Bacon. Wouldn’t you? The film is packed full of witty gags, but is not without a touching underbelly. After only one outing, the Guardians might’ve even gained more favour than those Avengers. Thor needs to pray more.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Cast

1. Interstellar

Interstellar isn’t perfect. The piece wobbles under the weight of its scientific load occasionally, and champions an ending that might exceed the justifiably grounded expectations of some. But it’s pure cinema. It’s inspiring and uplifting. Heart-breaking and mesmerising. Christopher Nolan pits the plausibility of science against the will of humanity, incorporating an effective cast and a thrilling technical palette in the process, and he subsequently conceives the best film of 2014.

Interstellar - MM

I hope you’re all having a tip-top holiday!

Images credit: Collider

Images copyright (©): Warner Bros, Picturehouse, Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, CBS Films

Top 10 Films of 2014 (January-July)

Apart from serving as a stark and somewhat worrying reminder about university work that I’ve not yet completed but absolutely should have, August is also the last month of summer blockbuster season. I’ve no idea why that’s relevant. Here are my top 10 films of the calendar year thus far. UK release dates. It’s about a month late.

We all love lists though, so I hope you fine folks’ll forgive me.

10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

Bryan Singer guides the X-Men franchise back to form with a rip-roaring circus act made up of mind bending time travel, slow motion wall-running and Wolverine being Wolverine. Days of Future Past manages its cast supremely well – even the underused Evan Peters is magnetic. Though, not Magneto. He could be. That joke wasn’t even planned.

DoFP - McAvoy

9. Calvary

Brendan Gleeson both runs and steals the show as Father James Lavelle in a film that plays its cards from the get-go, before promoting a townsfolk guessing game as darkly entertaining and intriguing as any before. The screenplay evolves as characters unravel and, through Father James, we become an integral part of it all.

Calvary - Gleeson and Reilly

8. The Lego Movie

Everything is awesome! And hilarious. And energetic. And utterly batty. A flick that proudly flaunts something for everyone, The Lego Movie is non-stop from start until finish; the incessant stream of laughter that spills from our mouths makes it difficult to regain control of breathing. The film ain’t perfect but when things are this gleefully mental, it doesn’t need to be.

The Lego Movie - Icons

7. Locke

For 85 minutes we sit in a car with Tom Hardy and for 85 minutes Tom Hardy magnificently transforms into an ordinary guy bearing a portfolio of problems, each one weightier than the previous. Locke is a moment in time driven by authentic normality that’s incredibly hard to come by on film.

Locke - Hardy in Car

6. Edge of Tomorrow

Doug Liman’s sci-fi extravaganza is even more than that: it’s startlingly funny, unconditionally engaging and the only film I’ve seen twice at the cinema this year. Tom Cruise flips perception on its head, but Emily Blunt is the one who kicks most ass. Edge of Tomorrow is summer popcorn cinema done intelligently. The correct way.

Edge of Tomorrow - Blunt

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Hailed as more than simply one of Marvel’s superhero jaunts, The Winter Soldier captures a variety of interests. There’s both a political tinge and an espionage strand to go along with the familiar genre narrative, and these additions work. Chris Evans unveils his best performance as the Cap’n in a film that is considered by many to be the best Marvel output to date. Honestly.

Captain America The Winter Soldier - Captain

4. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Dawn grabs the impressive progress made in Rise and swings to new, greater heights. The tone is more wrought and the outlook is increasingly bleak but, from acting to visuality, the execution is wholly sublime. To simplify Matt Reeves’ flick as the best looking film in a generation would be to do it a disservice. It is, but Dawn also boasts a fulfilling and rewarding foundation.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes - Caesar and Mate

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

From smoky bars to icy streets, there’s no escaping the genuine purity of the Coen brothers’ folk piece. Its screenplay is morbidly delightful, and Oscar Isaac is a walking manifestation of just that. Llewyn is a bit of an ass yet we root for him. Peculiarly, and perhaps it’s just me, despite his downtrodden unluckiness we want to be him. Then again, it might simply be the allure of this latest Coen tale.

Inside Llewyn Davis - Oscar Isaac Guitar

2. 12 Years a Slave

Formally recognised as 2013’s best film, 12 Years a Slave hit UK cinemas in January of this year. It’s inarguably the toughest piece on this particular list, and is certainly one of the most gruelling watches in recent memory. Not only is Steve McQueen’s retelling of the harrowing slave trade important, but it’s also incredibly well delivered. People should see this because it depicts a vile chapter that ought to be bookmarked as a warning to humanity.

12 Years a Slave - Ejiofor

1. Blue Ruin

Though it’s not as heavy as 12 Years a Slave, or as furnished as Inside Llewyn Davis, or as visually striking as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Blue Ruin comes nail-bitingly close each time. This is simple storytelling relayed with a restrained confidence and wholesome purpose, and there’s even a tremendous lead performance from Macon Blair to cap it all off. It’s just brilliant.

Blue Ruin - Blair Distance

I’m off to read about the geopolitics of Hollywood.

Images credit: Collider

Images copyright (©): 20th Century Fox, Entertainment One, Warner Bros, A24, Walt Disney Studios, CBS Films

The Purge (2013)


The Purge PosterDirector: James DeMonaco

Release Date: May 31st, 2013 (UK); June 7th, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Horror; Science-fiction; Thriller

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder

The Purge opens promisingly: a cascade of slowly enveloping surveillance feeds show a timeline of violence, both unadulterated and raw. It sets the scene, year 2022, the images depicting acts of inhumanity committed on the one night that they’re legal. The feed hints at a lack of security, infusing a sense of realism and close proximity to home whilst also suggesting what we’re about to see is 21st century brutality. But that’s not quite what follows. Despite a promising start, James DeMonaco’s film, although mindfully suggestive and thoroughly polished, never really fulfils the ambitions towards which it initially embarks.

With crime rates and unemployment figures astonishingly low, the United States is seemingly in good hands under the New Founding Fathers of America. It’s not these results that are worrying though, rather, that the country’s social achievements have come by way of a demonstrably violent method: the Purge. The Sandin family are amongst those who financially benefit from the twelve hour anything goes societal melee, father James (Ethan Hawke) having struck gold with his house security system. When his son Charlie (Max Burkholder) lets in a wounded Purge victim things start to go wrong; the latter’s pursuing attackers are led straight to the family home carrying spiteful demands.

The moral jousting embodied by Charlie is one that the film looks to delve into from the beginning, doing so with true intentions if not true conviction. The Sandin’s are a rich family who discuss carb intake at the dinner table and live in a lavish house that represents the prosperity of James’ sales pitches. Essentially, the Purge funds them. Individually they’re fairly affable folk, but collectively the Sandin’s aren’t exactly an authentic reflection of life. Instead, the quartet are like the gloss over a scratched surface. Even though the allotted night of crime has ushered in decreasing unemployment and a reduction in year round violence, the poor are still those who suffer when suffering occurs — take Charlie’s wounded invitee, for instance.

The ambiguity over whether or not we should root for, or even like, the Sandin family unfurls disorderly as the film progresses, but this initial notion of papering over the cracks stays rooted firmly within the narrative, indicating an inbuilt societal prerogative that is advantageous to wealth. In a way events displayed throughout The Purge are merely a continuation of the world today and DeMonaco — who also wrote the screenplay — tries to shill this allegorical pursuit, however is eventually overruled by a lack of vigour. The twisted morality emitted from our central family resonates with the trials and tribulations of Macon Blair’s Dwight in Blue Ruin. For both he and James Sandin, it boils down to an age-old dilemma: how far would you go to protect your family? Whereas Blue Ruin effectively portrayed a blunt and grisly reality, The Purge doesn’t quite have the same stark intensity. Although it simmers like a fine broth, the end product isn’t all that satisfying.

Yet, intrinsically linked to the moral juggling are the makings of a successful look at post-contemporary crime and violence. Proceedings have a familiar Hunger Games-esque tinge to them; one night of inhumanity for the apparent sake of all humanity. The idea of a 12-hour law-free zone is absolutely ridiculous, but there’s something perversely plausible about it. We listen along with wife Mary as news commentaries discuss the logistical need for the Purge, while “have a safe night” is common neighbourhood lingo. Disorder is the norm, at least for a brief period of time, a concept that the film profitably depicts as eerily recognisable. DeMonaco also adds creepiness though discomforting erudite imagery (upper class young adults unorthodoxly peering up at a peephole), given this is paraded as a horror film after all — though it’s far more confident in the thriller aspect. There’s also a relentless murmuring sound that carefully ratchets up the tension as events advance.

In the end, alongside a lack of should-be applicable harshness, the film succumbs to being far too unrealistic. The improbable main plot point isn’t an issue — we’re along for the ride from the get-go — however there’s an incredible influx of coincidence going on. For one, the attackers outside are undisturbed for a significant amount of time despite being exposed to the crime-ridden streets. Also, people just so happen to walk directly into the line of fire on a number of occasions. (Listen out for where daughter Zoe’s decides to hide.) “Things like this are not supposed to happen in our neighbourhood,” chimes one character who seemingly never received the bleak tonal memo, opting for cheap black humour instead.

Notwithstanding some shoddy dialogue, the performances are universally well-oiled. Lena Headey is the best of the bunch as wife Mary, never coming across as unlikeable despite playing a character who could have towed the swanky line. Headey even manages to channel the purposeful poise she heeds in Westeros. As her husband James, Ethan Hawke holds up his end of the bargain. His reliability does outbid any ingenuity, though in truth he’s not given an awful lot to work with other than convention. Adelaide Kane and Max Burkholder are engaging as the duo’s children Zoe and Max, and Rhys Wakefield does his best impression of a peculiar, skin-crawling villain.

The Purge is better than just cheap thrills and jumpy scare-tactics. Director James DeMonaco attempts to inject the increasingly fledgling horror genre with a degree of thought-provocation, and success up until a point. High in concept and high in potential value, this doesn’t quite muster up the strength to be high in quality, but it shouldn’t be shunned for trying.

The Purge - Mob

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Universal Pictures

Blue Ruin (2014)


Blue Ruin PosterDirector: Jeremy Saulnier

Release Date: April 25th, 2014 (US limited); May 2nd, 2014 (UK)

Genre: Thriller

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.

Blue Ruin - Blair

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider