Seemingly managing to blend a Western with a contemporary revenge thriller, Blue Ruin is never quite what you expect. Tinged with biting grit and occasional horror writer-director Jeremy Saulnier conjures something minimalistic yet deeply engaging.
Dwight (Macon Blair) is a vagrant living off the discarded food of others while sleeping in his rusted-out old Pontiac. When a friendly local police officer takes him into the station it is not to arrest him but rather break the news that the man responsible for the death of his parents is being released from prison. So angered by this revelation is Dwight that he gets the car running and heads back to his home state of Virginia to take revenge against said man. But Dwight is no assassin and soon finds that his haphazard way of settling his blood feud has put his estranged sister in direct danger.
Near silent for the opening act and spattered with acts of violence that are both realistic and full of impact due to their rare occurrence, Blue Ruin is an always fascinating watch. While most revenge thrillers tap into that primeval ideal of justice, Blue Ruin goes in a different direction. Dwight is no Charles Bronson, he’s no Leon The Professional and he’s certainly not a Man On Fire. While most avenging protagonists revel in their acts of violence, Dwight reacts like most people would; with horror and desperate fear.
Dwight realises too late that he’s started something that he can’t possibly hope to finish. As such he cuts a wonderfully traumatised and subdued hero. In the opening scenes Blair’s disheveled look is misleading. Yes, his tactics of finding a gun leave much to be desired but he still looks like someone who has walked out of a Clint Eastwood movie with claret dripping from his blood soaked hands. It’s not until he’s shaved and put on a clean shirt that you begin to realise just how much hate must have been lurking beneath that beard for him to go to such lengths.
Much of this impact is down to Blair’s wonderfully restrained performance, refusing to raise his voice beyond a murmur he imbues Dwight with a sense of tragic destiny. Even in Dwight’s darkest hours Blair finds ways of making you deeply care for his plight. By the time he encounters old school friend Ben, played with grinning joy by Devin Ratray, you begin to understand that Dwight is only a shadow of his former self.
But Saulnier never lets melancholy enter the fray. Instead Blue Ruin has a very subtle but hugely welcome jet-black sense of humour at its core. Watching Dwight bumble his way through his task is often comical in its execution. There is a sense of The Coen Brothers’ early work, that dry sense of slapstick comedy that is never obviously part of the narrative but always present in the tone.
A dark and thoroughly engaging revenge thriller that gets into the hero’s head while delving deep beneath the audience’s skin.