Blue Ruin review

The traditional American revenge thriller is brilliantly subverted in Blue Ruin. Ryan explains why it's a movie worth seeking out...

Thrillers more commonly deal with the fantasy of revenge rather than the reality. Protagonists like Death Wish’s Paul Kersey or Man On Fire’s John Creasey are steely-eyed men of resolve. They break out their guns and set off on missions of righteous justice, and seldom flinch when it comes to pulling the trigger.

There’s the palpable sense that Dwight, the central character in Blue Ruin, has seen quite a few of those movies, and maybe caught a showing of the Coen brothers’ adaptation of No Country For Old Men on late night TV. He’s a man on a revenge mission, just as we’ve seen countless times before, but he isn’t exactly unwavering in his resolve, or even particularly adept at handling a firearm. And it’s the character’s vulnerability that makes Blue Ruin so gripping from beginning to end.

When we first meet him, Dwight (Macon Blair) is a bearded vagrant living in a car almost as exhausted-looking as he does. Dwight makes a pittance from collecting cans from the beach, and keeps himself clean by taking a dip in the sea or sneaking into people’s houses and borrowing their bath tubs. He’s a sad-eyed, haunted man, and the bullet holes peppering his old car hint at a chequered and dangerous past.

Dwight, we soon learn, has been waiting to avenge the murder of his parents 20 years before. On learning the whereabouts of his quarry, he suddenly clicks into life; he refuels his Sedan, reattaches the battery, and heads off to Virginia to find his mark. But Dwight quickly discovers that he’s anything but the cold-hearted assassin or keen survivalist he might have hoped – all those things that movie stars made look so easy on the big screen turn out to be far more difficult to carry out in practice.

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On a low budget (partly acquired through Kickstarter), writer, director and cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier crafts an unpredictable and absorbing indie thriller. So much of Blue Ruin’s suspense springs from its gradual drip-feed of information: the opening 20 minutes, executed almost without a single line of dialogue, serve as a kind of film within a film, establishing Dwight as an ordinary man driven to murder by his own misguided obsession. We learn about Dwight not through exposition, but through the clues present in every shot.

From this assured opening, Saulnier unspools his blackly comic thriller, which sees Dwight drawn into a cycle of retribution and counter-retribution. Comparisons between the work of the Coen brothers, particularly their debut feature Blood Simple and the aforementioned No Country For Old Men apply, yet Blue Ruin stands apart thanks to the sheer fumbling ineptitude of its protagonist. He brings the ruin on himself, certainly, but you can’t help rooting for him from beginning to end.

At a time when it seems to be becoming increasingly difficult to get low-key thrillers funded, Blue Ruin stands as a refreshingly sharp and direct modern example of the genre. Macon’s endlessly watchable leading turn is supported by Home Alone’s Devin Ratray as a gun-collecting old high-school friend, and Kevin Kolack as one of the slippery enemies Dwight makes during his ill-advised revenge campaign.

Beneath the occasional bursts of crimson gore and pitch-black comedy moments, there’s something else, too: a subtle yet effective meditation on the fruitlessness of violence, and the psychological toll an act of vengeance can leave behind.

As Blue Ruin so proves so beautifully in its compact 90-minute duration, there’s no such thing as a clean kill.

Blue Ruin is out in UK cinemas on the 2nd of May.

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4 out of 5