Blue Ruin (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★
Here is a film about revenge and shows violence but never glorifies it. It presents violence as a very messy affair where things do not go exactly as planned. But what elevates the picture, written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, is its unrelenting atmosphere of sadness.
Glossier and more mainstream movies about revenge tend to highlight the idea that vengeance chips away the humanity of those who act upon it. Not here. We grow to care for Dwight (Macon Blair) exactly because he maintains his deepest humanity throughout. By the end, it is clear that his actions are driven by a sense of duty. One can make a case that this film has the heart, vision, and confidence of a classic western.
Tense moments build and command momentum because Saulnier has a patient eye. He is not afraid to include scenes that appear as though nothing much is happening. Look more closely as the writer-director reveals who the protagonist is beyond what drives him to kill. The picture is at its best when Dwight decides to seek out a friend from high school, Ben (Devin Ratray), and asks for a favor. From the moment they meet at a parking lot to the point where they must part, we get a clear and specific impression about their friendship.
Dwight is an interesting specimen because he is no action hero. The character has no special skills, he is not very fast, and he is not especially intelligent. He is sensitive but that can get one killed. The casting is also inspired. Blair looks like a regular person walking down the street. Such a decision pays off quite big at times because we see that someone who looks like our neighbor down the road is capable of murdering in cold blood.
The material is not about words uttered but about action. Sometimes it is about silence. As Dwight kicks down the door of a stranger’s home, gun pointed twelve o’clock, and enters each room, there is no score or soundtrack. The only sounds are the scuffling of his feet, his rapid breathing, his heartbeat, and his body making contact with the environment. We walk in the shoes of an intruder.
Dwight feels he must avenge the murder of his parents. Because of a plea deal, Wade is released from prison. Dwight sets out to correct this. “Blue Ruin” is grim and violent, but it is also smart, suspenseful, and profound. It does not set out to make a case for or against revenge; it merely follows one man’s journey. Dwight has an idea how it might all end. We do, too. But when the material consistently upends expectations, one cannot help but feel hope.