Film Reviews

Blue Ruin Jeremy Saulnier

Rating - 8/10

Let’s face it, much of what passes as independent cinema is indulgent, boring, pretentious, or some heinous concoction of all three.  Every time I see that Sundance or IFC label, or catch a hazily photographed movie poster with stars from some dimwitted online movie reviewer whose name is too small to read, I instantly get wary.  There’s a big business now, not to mention a fully developed science, in marketing these films to a supposedly discriminating audience.  They know how to get your attention, they always get mine, but what they’re selling is, more often than not, bound to disappoint.  Not that I blame them.  Making even what are called independent movies is an expensive, risky proposition, especially as multiplexes make the possibility of a theatrical release more and more remote, and internet piracy detracting from potentially lucrative on-demand revenues.  So basically they need to trick us into spending money on self-important tripe. 

But every once in a while a burgeoning director, operating outside of the typical Hollywood industry system, gets the urge to make a movie, not for himself or his friends, but for a wider audience.  He doesn’t want to pander, but he also doesn’t want to alienate – he wants to produce something entertaining and compelling.  Jeremy Saulnier is just such a director.  After making a schlocky horror movie called Murder Party, he chose a more serious subject for his second feature, Blue Ruin.  Relative unknown, Macon Blair, plays Dwight a homeless man who discovers that the man who killed his parents and sent his life off-track, is about to be released from jail.  Not an overtly violent man, he nonetheless decides it’s his duty to hunt the man down and kill him.  If this sounds like a typical revenge story that you’ve seen a hundred times before, rest assured it is not.  I thought I had an early scene pegged as a naughtily comic homage to Hamlet, the scene where he comes upon Claudius in the chapel.  Hamlet decides not to kill Claudius at that moment else his soul would travel directly to heaven.  The corresponding scene in Blue Ruin takes place in a bathroom, but goes in a different direction.  Saulnier makes the most out of Dwight’s cluelessness and unfamiliarity with the world he needs to inhabit to pull off his mission.  I’m not going to reveal any plot points because to do so would detract from experiencing this film as a constantly unfolding set of surprises that keep the tension high.  Suffice to say that Dwight is not in control of the situation, in fact he soon realizes that he is dangerously out of his element. 

Blue Ruin is an extraordinarily well made film for such a low budget exercise.  Saulnier gets the most from his actors, especially his lead.  Macon Blair is shockingly good telegraphing his panic and drive through a minimum of dialogue.  Next year’s Oscars aren’t likely to recognize Mr. Blair for his work here but they should.  The entire film rests on his shoulders as he is in nearly every scene and its success is largely creditable to his fine work.  Saulnier also helms the camera and takes the writing credit, and he has crafted a beautiful looking film, making the most of the Virginia locations.  He also provides some meat on these lovely bones.  The film meditates on justice and revenge, family bonds, duty and guilt.  Everything that seemed black and white, in fact everything that set the story in motion at the beginning, gets questioned and perhaps totally overturned.  By using the standard tools of the revenge genre, action, thrills, righteous indignation, Saulnier makes a film that breaks the bonds of cliché and arrives at a truth of its own.  This is one independent film that actually lives up to the hype.  The current gross on the movie is about $239,000, which is criminally low for such an outstanding and entertaining film.  The least that can happen is the film’s positive critical reception sets off a promising future for Saulnier and Blair.