As micro-budget thrillers go, few made as big a splash this year as Jeremy Saulnier’s bloody and darkly funny Blue Ruin. If the sinister plots and surprising humor of Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men disarmed you, then Saulnier’s taut, tense thriller about a family feud should be a must-watch.
The drama follows homeless drifter Dwight (Macon Blair), one of the palest and least menacing-looking vigilantes in recent cinematic memory. It is his normality and his naivety that makes him somewhat lovable, as he moves forward to get justice on Will Cleland, the man convicted of murdering his parents years earlier who is now released from prison. From there, Dwight makes an effort to take some vigilante justice; however, after an attempt turns awry, he becomes the target of the Cleland family.
Much of the film’s humor comes from Dwight’s last-minute attempts to commit a crime, which involves a lot of errors and shoddy mistakes. He slowly becomes more competent as the feud gets bloodier, meaning Saulnier’s drama moves from amusingly deranged to dark. Blair never overshoots his arc as he moves from a victim to a violator, and his patches of nervousness creates an even more jittery suspense.
While Blair is excellent, the main breakthrough here is Saulnier, already becoming one of the more exciting voices in independent cinema. He likes to subvert the tropes of this subgenre, focusing on a haggard man who doesn’t seem to have a tough bone in his body. Beyond that, he has a terrific eye, focusing on spare landscapes as well as claustrophobic interiors that bring us into the psyche of the tightly coiled protagonist. Retribution has rarely seemed so riveting in contemporary American cinema.