Action is always followed by its consequence, and the damaged hero of “Blue Ruin” learns that unavoidable truth in a hard and violent way. While there are several striking moments of violence to jolt us along its tight plot peppered with low-key black humor, the movie works as a somber, contemplative character study as well as a dark, impactful thriller drama, and its small but impressive achievement is all the more praiseworthy considering the hard efforts put behind the screen.
Its story revolves around Dwight (Macon Blair), a quiet vagrant who has been leading his aimless solitary life in some beach area of Delaware. In his mute, scraggy appearance, he looks more like a wraith floating around the area while not being noticed by anyone, and we come to sense that this guy has been detached from the world like that for years. He usually gets his food from trashcans, and he uses others’ houses if he needs to wash himself, and he sometimes spends his night with books in his rusted blue Pontiac car, which is more or less than his current residence.
Dwight does not reveal much about where he was from or how he happened to lead such a desolate lifestyle, but we slowly get to know about him when a caring local policewoman delivers him an alarming news. A man who has been imprisoned for murdering Dwight’s parents a long time ago is going to be released from prison, and Dwight becomes determined to do something about that; he reactivates his car from its dormant state, and then he leaves for his hometown in Virginia.
He follows after the man he intends to kill, right after he is released from the prison. He eventually gets his wish in the end (this is not much of a spoiler), but his clumsy revenge is not executed as well as he wanted – and things only get messier for him after that. While he somehow escapes from the murder scene, he soon realizes that he endangers not only himself but also his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her children because of his revenge. Although the local police do not seem to know what happened, Dwight instinctively senses that the family members of a murdered man are going to do anything for their revenge, and Sam is not very pleased about this sudden danger, though she does not particularly object to what Dwight committed in the name of family.
The movie takes its time to build and tighten its quiet tension, and it also shows a wry sense of humor as Dwight tries to handle the situation which is clearly way over his head. He is not one of those invincible action movie heroes at all, and it is evident from the beginning that he did not think much about the consequences of his action as driven by his urge for revenge. He just wanted to kill that guy and he surely succeeded, but now he must pay the price for that. More desperate than ever, he does not know what to do – except preparing himself for possible dangers as much as he can.
While providing a number of nice suspenseful scenes as Dwight struggles with his worsening plight, the director/writer Jeremy Saulnier, who also served as the cinematographer of his film (he previously worked in several independent films including “Putty Hill” (2010) while making his directorial debut in horror comedy film “Murder Party” (2007)), steadily rolls his terse plot while maintaining efficient control of mood and pace. It is well known that he struggled hard to finance the production of his film in every possible way available to him including his credit cards and Kickstarter campaign, and it is testament to his directing skill that the movie does not look deficient at all on the technical levels in spite of its tight budget (the movie cost less than $ 500,000 in total).
Its calm but tense mood is sometimes punctuated by sudden bursts of bloody violence, and they are alternatively shocking and absurd while working as unexpected plot turns not so far from what we have seen from the works of the Coen Brothers. Although Dwight manages to stay one or two steps ahead of his opponents, he is not always lucky, and we get a cringe-inducing moment when he attempts to take care of his injured leg for himself after he escaped from one deadly confrontation.
The economic storytelling of Saulnier’s succinct screenplay allows enough space for characterization in its plot. The conversation scene between Dwight and Sam clearly shows the awkwardness between two siblings who have not interacted with each other for many years since their family tragedy, and the movie even shows some understanding in its brief, indirect depiction of Dwight’s opponents. Although they are not that pleasant people, but they are understandably angry about what happened to them, and Dwight comes to understand their position more especially after he happens to learn how pointless his revenge actually was.
The movie depends a lot on the haunting lead performance by Macon Blair, who stood by Saulnier from the very beginning of its production as his close friend. He ably carries the film as a hollow broken man who is further imploded through his violence, and this may be a breakthrough for this relatively unknown actor. The supporting actors are solid although most of them appear briefly, and the special mention goes to Devin Ratray, who plays a jolly guy willing to help Ben more than wanted as his old friend.
“Blue Ruin” has received lots of praises since it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival in last year (it received the FIPRESCI Prize at the festival), and it also helped its director’s career as he wished. Thanks to the critical success of the film, Saulnier is currently working on his next film to be released in 2015, and his cast includes not only his friend Blair but also notable actors like Imogen Poots, Anton Yelchin, and Patrick Stewart. I do not know what will happen next in his directing career, but he is certainly going up for now, and I think I can expect more things to come from him.