(Our friend Rohan Morbey remains on a prolific tear, putting reviews up at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK, and has graciously allowed us to cross-post his enthusiastic review of the indie revenge drama Blue Ruin, which opens in the United States tomorrow. We're always happy to include his posts here, and recommend that you follow Rohan on Twitter.)
“He’s going to be released” says a police officer to Dwight, a long haired, long bearded vagrant whose only home is a rusty, beaten up light blue Pontiac. With these few words one man makes a decision which will see bloodshed and violence, with no one getting away clean.
Blue Ruin is quite brilliant and what resonates the most is the lead character, Dwight. As the film begins we watch as he flees from a house as the owners get back from vacation, only to find his next meal in a trash can; within these opening few minutes we understand this man’s day to day routine with barely a word spoken. He is a man with practically nothing except this crappy car, but he is also a man driven by a personal mission. He isn’t ex-SAS and he doesn’t have weapons or combat training, nor is he taking down a criminal empire or getting involved in some Death Wish style killing spree for the sake of a high body count to please a bloodthirsty audience. Moreover, there isn’t a crazy, nasty group of villains for us to hate on and thus rally behind Dwight.
The revenge Dwight seeks is against the man who killed both of his parents, who is now being released from jail some 20 years after. It’s refreshing take to have a man avenge the death of parents as opposed to a wife or child, with the long stretch of time after the incident only adding to Dwight's pain and anger. This is presumably part of the reason why he is now without a home, although it's never fully explored.
Blue Ruin never hurries into action, yet at 95 minutes it rarely wastes a scene, of which several stand out: an assassination attempt in a toilet, the eye-watering task of removing an arrow from a leg, and the tense, drawn out climax all help make Blue Ruin a gripping experience. But the film is not without its dark comedic moments which break up the violence and give the proceedings a more ‘naturalistic’ feel. In one scene the line “that’s what bullets do” is both funny and frightening in its bluntness and honesty.
The film is frugal with dialogue and liberal with storytelling through images, always looking professional and making the most of the Virginia landscapes, never cheapened with flashy camera techniques. It reminds me of a mixture of the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple and No Country For Old Men for what can be done with a low budget and simple story, and its relentless pursuits where violence and death are the only concern. That’s prolific company to be associated with but writer and director Jeremy Saulnier has earned it here.
If there’s one thing which stops the film from reaching true greatness it’s the final act. Although tense, well shot, and slowly building up to a final explosion of violence I couldn’t help but feel a little underwhelmed by the lack of emotion or resolution on show from Dwight; the violence doesn't seem to change him throughout the film. It could be argued that because he has nothing this is all he has to live and die for, but the film just needed something a little deeper to bring this home.
Minor issues aside, Blue Ruin is a superb film, a pleasure to watch and write about. It shows what can be done with a small budget, a simple idea, sparse dialogue, and confidence in the audience to stay with it without sacrificing style or substance.