Review by-Jarrett Leahy
Upon the discovery that the man who ruined his life is being released from prison, Dwight Evans, a transient drifter surviving on the scraps found around the beach area he inhabits, returns to his hometown to confront this evil from his past, unleashing an act of vengeance that puts his estranged family in danger.
Revenge films are by nature violent stories. However, where Blue Ruin graciously differs from most is in its restrained depiction of its bloodshed. I found an appreciation that Dwight, our story’s protagonist, isn’t a blood thirsty maniac, and we aren’t asked to condone his actions or see him as some sort of anti-hero. In fact, it was a bracing change to witness a movie character whose detestable actions and their unintended consequences actually weigh heavily on him after the fact. There’s also much to be said for writer/director/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier’s skillful storytelling and his choice to not reveal, until much later in the movie, what this man in fact did to deserve being punished upon his release from prison, instead showing confidence in his audience to infer that it must have been truly heinous to rile up Dwight to such a frenzy that he would even consider embarking on this ill-fated mission.
Of the many duties he deftly carried out for the film, Saulnier’s most gifted contribution was his hauntingly alluring cinematography. There were numerous times were I found myself responding to a certain shot or particular camera angle with awed wonderment. The foreboding and dreamlike atmosphere during Dwight’s car ride through the foggy Virginia mountains felt almost hallucinatory. And in the film’s most exceptional visual sequence, the pivotal bar bathroom scene, Saulnier utilizes flawless closeups to capture, through a crack in the stall Dwight is hiding in, the sheer fury and terror on his face as he peers out at Wade Cleland, the man he’s abhorred for so many years. The next shot is even more amazing as the camera, now looking in the opposite direction through the same crack, catches Wade, peering into the bathroom mirror, as he notices Dwight staring at him from the stall. These two shots alone told me I was in the presence of a filmmaker with a true gift and knowledge on camera placement.
Saulnier’s undeterred decision to cast his best friend and filmmaking partner, Macon Blair, as his lead for the film was an honorable and quite perceptive decision. Blair, who could pass for the offspring of Nathan Lane (if Lane was into that sort of thing) offers an acquiescent, unsuspecting delivery that creates a character that you wouldn’t normally suspect for this type of role. Through Blair’s deft and wary facial expressions and body language, we recognize, without needing the film to tell us, that this is a fragile yet intelligent man whose vagabond situation was most likely brought about by his harrowing past that still haunts him. Despite his limited acting credits, Blair expertly captures the pain, rage, and fear that would drive a man to such a desperate act of pure vengeance.
The fact that Blue Ruin was even completed is an incredible example of the faith this filmmaker and friends and family had in his talents and the story he so desperately wanted to tell. Saulnier and his wife re-financed their house, cashed out their retirement plans, borrowed money from family members, and even raised over $37,000 in a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter.com in order to procure enough funding for the movie’s completion. All of this effort paid off as Blue Ruin was selected to premiere at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. For me, supporting that kind of unbridled determination from a filmmaker to make his vision a reality is a no-brainer, especially when the end creation is as skillfully accomplished as this thriller turned out to be.
The implausible success of Blue Ruin is just the latest in a long line of astonishing rags to riches stories brought about by dedicated filmmakers who refused to let the Hollywood system keep them from sharing their unique vision. Blue Ruin is not a perfect movie, at times, the film’s indie underbelly rears up, demonstrating the limitations its sparse budget had on elements of the story. But, those moments are only minor when compared to overall achievement of this project. As Saulnier humorously declared in an article for Moviemaker.com, “I’m that sh*thead who won the Indie Film Lotto.” While that might be partially true, moments like that just don’t happen by accident. A gifted triple threat filmmaker, Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is an attention grabbing, nerve-racking revenge indie drama that uses stunning cinematography and a haunting musical score to a create powerful thriller with the perfect balance of tension and unglorified violence.-JL