Drifter Dwight is forced to return to his hometown when he receives some bad news. Blue Ruin is a confident genre piece with a dark and insidious heart.
Blue Ruin is a pulpy thriller with marked similarities to the Coen Brothers filmic output. There is a touch of Fargo (1996) to this genre driven piece and director Jeremy Saulnier creates a vicious low-budget film about a man forced to be violent. Circumstances are often beyond our control but Blue Ruin explores the idea that our response may be too.
One of the most immediate things that Blue Ruin makes clear is that it is a visual piece. The shots are lovingly crafted and imbued with beautiful cinematography. This belies the film’s tone however and the darker recesses of human behaviour are explored within well lit landscapes.
Our hero is Dwight, played by Macon Blair. When we first meet Dwight he is a bearded and long haired man living out of his car. He is clearly homeless and adrift from society. The car once belonged to his parents but it is now his home. He lives on the outer edges of town and it seems this is where he has lived for some time.
The disruption to this life of idyll comes in the form of a friendly local police woman. She brings Dwight to the local precinct and explains to him that the man who killed his parents is about to be released from jail. Dwight takes all of this news in silence but once he leaves the police station he puts a new battery in his car. It’s clear from his actions that Dwight is going to seek revenge.
What’s interesting however is just how little is said. Dwight is an impassive figure and he keeps his cards close. He is someone that is unused to violence and his attempts to get a gun (or any sort of weapon) are met with frustration. He shaves his beard and cuts his hair though and once he is back in his hometown he looks his sister up.
Differing perspectives, same event
Both Dwight and his sister experienced the same loss when their parents were killed but Dwight and his sister deal with consequences differently. Dwight seeks revenge but his sister wants to leave it all in the past. Neither really attempt to alter the others perspective and instead uneasily just go their own way.
Blue Ruin plays with genre conventions and although the narrative unfolds in a formulaic manner it does so with creativity and when it subverts conventions it does it well. Dwight is not a retired police officer, he doesn’t have a military background, instead he is a hapless killer. He isn’t skilled and he can’t get his hands on the weapons that he needs. The violence in Blue Ruin is gory, messy, and unfortunate. No one dies easily and no one kills well.
In fact Dwight is disgusted by violence and only seems capable through happenstance. Every time he succeeds is purely down to luck adding an uneasy tone to the narrative itself. We’re not watching a capable killer, instead we’re watching a man attempt to revenge his parents with increasingly barbaric consequences.
Violence begets violence
There isn’t really much place for talking in the film. Instead it’s all about action and the effect that one choice can have on an entire life. The action of killing Dwight’s parents spawns the entire narrative that unfolds in Blue Ruin and it’s in there that we can perhaps find a sort of moral – consequences exist.
And in fact violence (if done well) needs planning and practicalities have to be considered. There is a hapless nature, perhaps hopeless, to Dwight and his attempts to avenge an action that happened in the past. But this isn’t an action packed revenge thriller. Blue Ruin is a more a meditation on the concept of revenge and how it affects and changes lives for the worse. At every point Dwight could decide to change his path – but he never does.
There is something in Blue Ruin that speaks about the human condition and it does so with little didacticism. It follows its genre conventions and as a revenge piece it’s really good. But director and cinematographer Saulnier has created something that looks beautiful too. This jars with the violent sequences and serves, in a subtle manner, to show just how disruptive and ugly violence can be.
Moving forwards, looking backwards
Dwight is forced on a journey towards revenge that’s more immersed in the past than in the present. His grief is mixed with anger ensuring that he never makes clear headed decisions. His ineptitude mirrors reality in that most of us are far from equipped to mete out effective violence – we’d just get killed in the process.
Blue Ruin works so effectively because it knows how to stop, pause, and take a breath. This is no frenetic action movie. Instead it plays out like Shane Meadow’s Dead Mans Shoes (2004). Both deal with the consequences of violence and the horrors of revenge.
It’s a taught, well crafted, and thoughtful revenge piece and Blue Ruin stands as an exciting second film from director Jeremy Saulnier. Slow, considered and never ponderous it’s a film that subverts our expectations and its skilful narrative creates an uncomfortable tone infused with suspense.