This is a violent revenge thriller that transcends the genre – actually, overrides every filmic cliché and convention in the book – and drills deep into the shredded nerve ends of a character unwittingly trapped in a fatalistic survival game where remorse can play no part.
But this is no fancy post modern take on an existential nightmare, an art house reworking of a familiar endgame, one that butchers away at the audience as much as its characters, with the usual sardonic pseudo Freudian overtones. This is shockingly real, bringing with it an intuitive perception and enquiring eye that we normally associate with the Dardennes or Kelly Reichardt, transforming a bloodbath into a character study where the small details – the dark side of the quotidian – matters more than plot and where dialogue is only secondary. Perhaps, it’s more than a coincidence that the filmmaker, Jeremy Saulnier, is primarily a cinematographer, revelling, as he does, in all aspects of film style and their possibilities.
And he struck gold with Macon Blair in the lead role. His unblinking eyes – they are massive – speak of paranoia, despair, desperation and umpteen other emotions but there is an unforced quality, an understated naturalism, that is quietly mesmerising, almost hypnotic, constantly in tune with Saulnier’s pared-down storytelling. But they also hint at backstories, other worlds beyond those that we see, triggering associations that engage the audience at a very personal level, adding layer on layer, intrigue on intrigue and give an extra kick to those ‘what if it was me’ questions. It’s powerful stuff and the kind of performance that would be a shoo-in for award season recognition in a high profile picture rather than a indie crowd funder made for less than $50k.
Blair plays a beach bum, Dwight, surviving on discarded scraps from bins or on the floor and sleeping in a rust ridden abandoned car that looks like it was involved in a shoot out decades before. He exists, and no more, on the fringes of society, unseen by everyone and unconcerned with others or, at least, until hearing that a convicted double murderer, Wade Cleland, has served his time in the Big House.
The victims were Dwight’s parents and Dwight takes it as a given that he will be the next in line. There is only one thing for it, he supposes, take out Cleland first, in an extreme act of proactive self-defence.
It seems completely out of character. His sister calls him weak but it’s this weakness that becomes his motivation, the same one that compelled him to opt out of society in the first place. Yet, Dwight astounds us with his ingenuity, a streetwise cunning that would be a match for anyone, creating an unresolvable tension at the heart of the film, a wonderful paradox that keeps us glued to the screen.
And Cleland is not the end of the story; his redneck psycho family/army keep on coming. They always will and Dwight brings onto himself what his actions were intended to end, a vicious cycle of violence that spirals out of control with nowhere to hide.
The film’s best moment is a wickedly funny sequence – gallows humour, of course – with Dwight’s loyal but gun crazy former college buddy, played with an endearing warmth and sincerity by Devin Ratray, giving a master class in the art of blowing somebody’s head off within the realms of the law. Dwight looks on in astonishment – “the rest of his head is over there!” he says – and whole thing could serve as a campaign centrepiece for the anti-gun lobby.
Blue Ruin picked up the FIPRESCI award in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight and could have graced the main competition, easily.
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