Under no circumstances should you mess with a man’s family, and no recent movie echoes that sentiment with more ferocity than Blue Ruin. Introducing a hobo-like character, a mute man obviously decimated by some type of tragedy, it’s not long before our “hero” begins his journey for redemption, revival, and most importantly, grisly revenge. There’s a premium on gut-wrenching emotion and a minimum on backstory explanation, aiding Murder Party director Jeremy Saulnier’s second feature effort. It’s a bit long and tends to drag at points, but lead actor Macon Blair perfectly exemplifies how when you take everything from a man, reducing him to the level of a mentally distraught street-urchin – what’s left to lose? People are nasty, grudge-holding beings who understand that even though violence may not be the answer, there aren’t many other options.
We meet Dwight (Macon Blair) living out of a rusted blue Pontiac, surviving off dumpster food and showering in unlocked houses while the homeowners are out. With no explanation, he appears to be an average drifter, until he learns of a prisoner’s release, someone who obviously harmed Dwight in some way years ago. Scrounging up whatever money, food, and gas he can find, Dwight sets out to meet the newly freed criminal with the focused intention of seeking revenge. Following him and his family to a bar, Dwight sneaks into the bathroom and kills Wade Cleland, who we learn murdered Dwight’s parents. Unfortunately, Dwight’s escape isn’t swift, and his registered car is left at the scene – leading the now vengeful Cleland family to Dwight’s sister (Amy Hargreaves). Knowing the fight that’s about to go down, Dwight sends his sister Sam out of town and stays in the marked house, waiting for the Cleland’s to retaliate – which they do.
Blue Ruin is a dissection of Dwight – a man rattled to his very core by the death of his parents. There are no fun action-based shootouts, no gallivanting with love interests, and definitely no genre tropes that turn into witty one-liners ala Arnold or Stallone. Dwight has been stripped of all humanity and is reduced to a lonely, emotionally detached man looking to fill an empty void with nothing but swift vengeance. No love. No forgiveness. No happiness – just reflection and action. Dwight attempts to find an equalizing sense of relief in Wade’s death, but instead puts his sister’s family in danger and insights a clan war that the Cleland’s never intend to bury – a tragic outcome of one man’s obsession.
Macon Blair, while wildly unknown, continues to impress on the festival circuit – but Blue Ruin absolutely stands as his best work to date. Murder Party was fun and bizarre, Hellbenders was utter crap and only gave him pedophile jokes to work with, but Blue Ruin gives him a rich, troubled, broken character any actor would kill to portray. All of Blair’s acting is represented through emotional responses, as even Dwight comments, “I’m not used to talking this much.” Dwight doesn’t smile, he just stares blindly. When asked about his plan, far to often he reveals there is no plan. Dwight let himself become engulfed by Wade Cleland’s apparent criminal actions, disconnected himself from society, and only lives to see Wade put underground. Macon Blair disconnects from the world just as Dwight does, and immerses himself in a pool of grief-driven revenge, a turn that’s harrowing, horrifying, and attention-grabbing in every way.
Blue Ruin‘s portrayal of revenge is also aided by brutally unnerving violence, showing that revenge might be a dish best served cold – but it’s also a revolting act of aggression. When Dwight kills Wade Cleland, the job is quick as Dwight swiftly stabs his target in the neck, but the finishing move is another stab directly into the side of Wade’s head. The squishing of flesh, the immediate spurting of blood, the redness that seeps into Wade’s eye, his lifeless expression – this is reality. Action stars can bust in and shoot up a room full of baddies, but Saulnier aims not to glorify violence. Violence is evil. It doesn’t solve problems – it creates more. Blue Ruin is a realistic response to one man’s brash act of aggression – which is brought to an entirely more unsettling level by Dwight’s acceptance of the entire scenario.
Blue Ruin tends to slow down with so much of Dwight’s self-reflection, and requires trust in Jeremy Saulnier’s minimalist approach, but as far as revenge thrillers go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more gritty, raw, and revealing portrayal of cinema’s most exploited theme. Life is full of consequences – all problems can’t be solved with a Wild West shoot-out. Dwight searches for peace in murder, but insights a riot he’s horribly unprepared for – the problem is, he’s ready for such chaos from the start.
When humans are broken down and left with no options, reason is thrown out the door – but severity varies per subject. For a true, powerful, emotionally jarring portrayal of the humbly haunting lengths man can go, look no further than Blue Ruin.
Blue Ruin is a raw portrayal of revenge that refuses to glorify violence, as Macon Blair teams with Jeremy Saulnier for another punchy indie success.