Blue Ruin is the type of film we don’t see anymore. It’s an American-made, American-set revenge thriller in which the cause for revenge is opaque, and the thrills are earned with patience. It’s a film that makes room for time. It rests, it observes. It studies a single subject, but always through an objective lens. It moves swiftly, capitalizing on every one of its 90 minutes by feeding us just the right amount of information. It’s a film that says as much through dialogue as it does through imagery. Focused, visceral, persistent. Genuinely, the only negative thing about Blue Ruin is that it acts as a stark reminder of the absence of more films of its kind.
A friendly visit from a local police officer helps put things in perspective. I won’t reveal what the officer shares with Dwight, but it’s enough to restore purpose and motivation into his life. Once he receives this information, Dwight gets in his car (the exterior of which is decorated with years-old bullet wounds) and makes his way to central Virginia. It is there that he is to meet a man. A man who forever changed his life. A man who has no idea Dwight is coming.
Blue Ruin is an exacting procedural; it moves along gracefully, but spares no detail in the events it depicts. Comparisons will justly be made to the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men. In that film, for example, we watch in excruciating detail as Anton Chigurh repairs his leg after being shot. Most any other filmmaker would show just one or two steps of Chigurh’s recovery. But the Coens aren’t interested in the macro execution of detail. They expose every step, to captivating results – precisely what Blue Ruin accomplishes. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier is not only fascinated with the mundane, he’s acutely aware that in order to sell it, it must be real. Slashing tires, shooting a rifle, starting a car in a moment of crisis – all things we’ve seen hundreds of times in film. Yet in Blue Ruin, these acts feel new, because they are executed so accurately.
This is a film void of cliché, never depending on cinematic stereotypes to sell its conflict. As a filmmaker, Saulnier proves that tension is not created with rapid editing and a shaky camera, but rather with a solid story, impeccable acting and precise shot composition. The film’s cinematography, by Saulnier himself, is a revelation. The lush fields of Virginia create a wondrously off-putting juxtaposition to the interior hells within the film. Saulnier is wise enough to know exactly what kind of shot will best service the scene, and he has the confidence to pull it off. A long but hurried tracking shot through a stranger’s home creates an unbearable moment of panic, and a handheld scene of reflection in a bathroom stall captures the dread of anticipation.
Saulnier shot Blue Ruin in 30 days on a budget just shy of half a million. According to his interview with the Hamptons International Film Festival, Saulneir’s motivation for making the film was a simple one: “Initially, there were two simple objectives: showcase my ability as a director and showcase Macon’s ability as an actor. We needed jobs.”
I love that attitude, and wholly subscribe to it. If you want to do something, do it. To create is to live, to expect is to die. Saulnier didn’t sit around expecting a script to fall into his lap, or a gig as a DP to magically come into play, he wrote a tight screenplay, rounded his friends together, and made one hell of an engrossing thriller. And please, don’t let my purposefully sparse plot details keep you away. This film is far too special to ignore. In addition to Macon Blair’s breathtaking turn (he’s literally in every scene of the movie), Amy Hargreaves, Devin Ratray, Kevin Kolack and Eve Plumb (yep that’s Jan Brady, all right) all deliver scene stealing work you won’t soon forget.
All things considered, Blue Ruin is one of the best-looking, finest-acted, most thoroughly compelling American independent films I’ve seen in years. The film is currently enjoying success in art house theaters around the country. Don’t live near one? No problem, it’s available right now for rent through iTunes. Trust me, Blue Ruin is not a film you want to create an excuse to not watch. A