Blue Ruin

The quiet life of a beach bum is upended by dreadful news. He sets off for his childhood home to carry out an act of vengeance but proves an inept assassin and finds himself in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family.

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  • ★★★★ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd

    Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore feature (following in the footsteps of his underrated dark comedy, Murder Party) is a film that manages to smartly subvert and reinforce the conventions of the revenge fantasy movie. Supporting the old adage, violence begets violence, Blue Ruin is a film that explores the cost of revenge for both those seeking bloody retribution and the people who ultimately suffer its consequences.

    The film opens on Dwight, a homeless man eking out an existence by breaking into empty homes to take a much needed bath and scouring dumpsters for discarded fast food. He’s all hair and sad, wide eyes - a shell of a human being haunted and twisted by past events. When his traumatic past is reawakened this bearded outsider returns home seeking vengeance on those responsible, yet he proves ill-equipped to mete out the justice he seeks.

    Blue Ruin’s greatest strength during its opening stretch is its unpredictability. Saulnier reveals only the scantest backstory details about his vagrant vigilante. Although motivation is clear the audience has little knowledge of the man Dwight was before he found himself living out of his parents’ rusting car. The fact that he enacts his revenge so early on in the film, just as the audience is still trying to piece together who he is, is a masterstroke in misdirection. This is not the revenge fantasy that either the audience or Dwight expected but a film that examines the human cost of such actions.

    There is no justice to be found here, just more violence and dead bodies as the collateral damage of Dwight’s haphazard vengeance spirals out of control. He may have enacted his revenge but he’s still the same husk of a man and now tormented by the guilt of his actions and what it means for his loved ones. Blue Ruin may not be the first film to explore the consequences of revenge but few films have so efficiently captured its futility and its corrosive influence on all those involved.

    Unlike so many revenge thrillers before it, Dwight is a man so poorly equipped to deliver the justice he seeks that even he is surprised when he survives each new encounter. Stumbling from each bloody meeting with new physical and emotional scars, Dwight is incapable of escaping the cycle of violence he has created for himself. Saulnier even occasionally turns Dwight’s bumbling efforts into dark comic relief but the air of tragic inevitability lingers over the whole film as it slowly builds to its fatalistic finale.

    Saulnier created the role of Dwight for his childhood friend, Macon Blair, and Blair repays this faith handsomely. Whether buried beneath a shaggy beard or shaved of his hobo hair it is Blair’s wide soulful eyes that reveal much about his character. He’s a bruised and haunted figure lost in stasis following the traumatic events a decade earlier. Like the car he calls home he’s stuck in the past and in disrepair. Blair inhabits the role so fully that even when the film’s second act falls back on narrative contrivance you remain invested in his character and the hopelessness of his escalating situation.

    Although I am not blind to the film’s faults, whether it be the slight second act slump or the broad characterisation of Dwight’s adversaries, Saulnier’s achievements far outweigh any niggling problems. From its sparse atmosphere, messy and shocking violence, evocative cinematography and brilliant central performance, Blue Ruin remains one of the finest films of the year.

  • ★★★★ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd

    Thrilling, suspenseful & effortlessly sustaining its nail-biting tension from start to finish, Blue Ruin is a cleverly paced, beautifully composed & brilliantly performed revenge thriller that unfolds its premise in an extremely comfortable manner yet a foreboding tension is always present in this indie which is further amplified by those anxious moments between each n every encounter.

    The story of Blue Ruin concerns Dwight Evans, a mysterious vagrant whose quiet life goes for a toss after he learns of an unexpected news & returns to his hometown to carry out an act of vengeance. The retribution is quick & brutal but it also exposes him to be an amateur assassin who, when it comes to protecting his estranged family, puts up an unexpectedly brave fight.

    Written, directed & photographed by Jeremy Saulnier, the film exhibits a very quiet ambience & makes minimal use of dialogues, music or camera movements throughout its runtime. Camerawork is steady, editing is concisely done while Macon Blair expresses himself amazingly well & delivers a terrific performance as Dwight with whom viewers shouldn't have much trouble connecting with.

    On an overall scale, Blue Ruin is an astonishingly well-made independent feature that also qualifies as one of the year's finest films. No single element here is present in excess but just the right dose and even if there are a few nitpicks, they all fall apart when compared to the number of things the director gets right. Simple, composed & patient yet violent, tragic & grim, Blue Ruin is thriller at its most elegant. Thoroughly recommended.

    Full review at: wp.me/p3KleJ-Se

  • ★★★★ review by Aaron on Letterboxd

    Part of Noir-November

    “I don’t know how this ends, but I’d like it to.”

    Revenge. Dish. Cold. You know the drill. The wronged person orchestrating a vengeful plot, biding her time until just the right moment to unleash it. A flurry of poetic justice, stylishly rendered, vindicating our hero (while perhaps corrupting her). Rube Goldberg-ian machinations and infernal patience underlie the avenging angel’s scheme; the only open question is at what cost does she unleash her righteous fury.

    At the center of this oft-told tale stands a person of nearly superhuman competence, a person preternaturally capable of predicting others’ moves, a person of Swiss-watch precision in both attack and counterattack. He is no mere mortal—the phrase “avenging angel” is no accident. He is a demigod with wide-ranging and mysterious gifts. It can be a thrilling tale and one frequently told well, as films like Oldboy and Tarantino’s Kill Bill saga demonstrate. But, as with Olympic athletics and adventurous pornography, the schlubby layperson is often left thinking that, if he were to try such things, he’d end up in the hospital...or worse.

    Meet Dwight Evans (Macon Blair). Dwight is not superhuman. Dwight is not extraordinarily competent. With his hangdog expression and mournful eyes and potato-like physique, Dwight is a schlubby layperson, like you or me. Rather than focus on the well-oiled, intricately crafted planning and execution of a flawless system of vengeance, director/writer/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin breathes life into the revenge film by asking what would happen if a short-sighted, ill-prepared ordinary man decided to dive into the bloodied eye-for-an-eye waters. The result is a darkly comic, deeply sad crime picture in the Coen Brothers vein (but without the associated absurd cosmic shenanigans).

    Saulnier lays out his story economically, neither wasting time nor rushing. When we first see Dwight, he appears homeless—scraggly hair, unkempt beard, dirty clothes. He collects bottles on the beach for spare change and steals scraps of food from dumpsters. He lives in his car, a rusting, bullet hole-ridden blue Pontiac Bonneville. Occasionally he breaks into a suburban home while the family is away for a bath, some food, some clean clothes. It is nearly five minutes before the film’s first words are spoken, which is fitting for a movie about a man who has withdrawn from society and cannot seem to find either the will or the way back into it.

    Dwight’s parents, we learn, were killed years earlier, and their murderer, Wade Cleland, is about to be paroled. The news spurs Dwight to action, seemingly the motivation he needed to rouse him from his self-imposed hibernation. Following the Cleland clan from prison to a roadside diner, Dwight hides in bathroom stall with a knife, awaiting Wade’s ablutions. Soon Wade arrives and, after a brief struggle, Dwight kills him. Revenge accomplished.

    But it’s only the beginning of Saulnier’s tale, which takes not-uncommon observations about the dirtiness of revenge and combines them with the wry humor of a reasonably intelligent but woefully myopic man in way, way over his head. From the outset, we sense that Dwight is not a very good criminal. Before resorting to a knife, he steals a gun with a safety lock on it—a lock he tries to break open, only to break apart the gun itself. Ineptitude and thoughtlessness haunt Dwight just as much as his deceased parents. If he worries that he might have been able to change the course of history had he been there to defend them, we may rest assured that his presence would simply have upped the body count to three.

    We don’t know if he worries about that, of course, because Dwight is largely a cipher, a man so turned inward that he can barely manage to push out a full sentence (a fact he freely acknowledges). What exactly was so disastrously upsetting about his parents’ murders—why it is that their loss drove him to off-the-grid isolationism—is never disclosed. Perhaps he hasn’t given it that much thought—from the evidence on display, Dwight never seems to think too deeply about an action before taking it. But it would be wrong to say that Dwight is stupid. He quickly puts together, for example, that his crime is not on the news because the Clelands will be seeking extra-legal comeuppance of their own, and that they will aim their violence at the address listed on his Bonneville’s title—his sister’s address. The deftness with which these realizations are laid out, clearly but without undue explanation, is one of the many thrills of Saulnier’s close-to-the-vest script, and it adds complexity to the reductive notion of Dwight as just a simpleton or loose cannon.

    Blair does remarkable work, more than meeting the difficult task of making a mostly silent, severely withdrawn loner captivating—just opaque enough not to be fully known, but just communicative enough (whether by word, facial expression, or action) to be knowable. It’s nicely subtle work, well complemented by the supporting players, including Amy Hargreaves as Dwight’s sister, Sam, who quickly flees town after Dwight’s confession and warning; Devin Ratray as Ben, Dwight’s old high school pal and gun enthusiast, happy to fix his friend up with weaponry but rightly dubious as to Dwight’s odds of success; and Kevin Kolack as Teddy Cleland, Wade’s brother, a man with a practical if violent outlook and a quick-wittedness indicative of a much greater familiarity with criminality than Dwight could hope to possess.

    But mostly Blue Ruin is Dwight’s story, one whose conclusion he has no more thought through than any other part of it. Saulnier’s compositions are beautiful, emphasizing Dwight’s isolation and discomfort, with slow but persistent movement creating a sense of constant unease. Curdled humor permeates the film, as when Dwight cannot even come up with a half-decent excuse for the cashier’s quizzical look at his blood-stained money. Verbal dexterity escapes Dwight, but so does the will to comply with society’s request for a nicely ornamented smokescreen. He is too tired for such nonsense—his weariness at the bloodshed surrounding him makes it seem almost normal, or at least expected. As Dwight tries to bring his saga to the only close he can think of and spare his sister and nieces in the process, his actions are not always wise but they make a sort of sad, fatalistic sense. They’ll bring things to an end, which is all he wants, even if he’s not sure exactly what that end will be. As Teddy says, the one with the gun gets to tell the truth. But when everyone has a gun, the truth is hard to come by.

  • ★★★★ review by Sea Lucas on Letterboxd

    Blue Ruin is a film which, much like its main character, seems hollowed out, scraped clean of all but the darkest and basest of human emotions. Though we witness every detail of Dwight's horrific, but understandable, quest for vengeance, we learn very little about him along the way. The real Dwight seems to have died along with his parents and any opportunities to learn more about the person he was, such as when he looks up his old high school buddy in search of a gun, are quickly brushed away. What remains is a very cold, but effective and technically solid film. However, this is not the sort of fare that I would want to revisit any time soon.

  • ★★★½ review by Naughty on Letterboxd

    Refreshing to see a film when push comes to shove the protagonist doesn't automatically acquire the skills with weaponry, violence and killing that can only come from years of specialized training!

    Interesting enough to keep my attention throughout but lets be honest it's nothing to write home about! Don't get me wrong it's a decent film it's just not spectacular!

    The promising young director Jeremy Saulnier film would not have been made if it wasn't for a successful fundraising campaign thru kickstarter!

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