Blue Ruin (2013)
Editor’s Note: Blue Ruin is out in limited release this Friday, April 25th.
“That’s how this is done,” sneers the criminal who’s just regained control of a situation via a shotgun somewhere around the midpoint of Blue Ruin. He’s speaking to the film’s inept hero, who’s trapped him in a trunk as part of the increasingly messy revenge narrative that drives the plot, but given the cleverly-twisted tropes of the genre here it’s as much to the movie itself he talks. Recapitulating the cliché that has come to attend stories of this sort, Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore feature is a superbly-scripted affair, melding vengeance with veracity to give a thriller that’s efficient for how far from taut it is. “That” may be how this is done in the movies; Blue Ruin is one that returns reality to the equation.
Recapitulating the cliché that has come to attend stories of this sort, Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore feature is a superbly-scripted affair, melding vengeance with veracity to give a thriller that’s efficient for how far from taut it is.
Its clearest predecessor, as few have failed to point out, is the Coens, whose films—Blood Simple and No Country for Old Men especially—bear the same focus on the lingering impact of violence and vengeance. How “this” is done should never be as clean as much of Hollywood would have it; Saulnier, like the brothers before him, places appropriate emphasis on blood stains and bruises, on the messy reality of murdering a person. Blue Ruin may never grant us the grisly sight of a wood chipper feasting on human remains, but its up-close angles on a knife to the head is every bit as aggrieving, its scenes of self-surgery just as likely to send pupils darting to the floor.
Just as concurrent with the brothers Coen is Saulnier’s slick sense of jet-black humour, exploiting Macon Blair’s endearing everyman performance to the magnificently macabre end of sanguine slapstick and aggressive absurdism. It can’t be coincidence that Blair’s beach bum protagonist steals an attire that looks borrowed from Woody Allen’s wardrobe before setting off to reap his revenge: his neurotic fish out of water in a world of crime makes for a movie that plays a little like Bananas by way of Blood Simple. If it seems curt to consider the film in terms other than its own, it shouldn’t: Blue Ruin is a movie forged on the foundations of forebears, as much dependant on their legacy as it is deferent toward it.
ust as concurrent with the brothers Coen is Saulnier’s slick sense of jet-black humour, exploiting Macon Blair’s endearing everyman performance to the magnificently macabre end of sanguine slapstick and aggressive absurdism.
Outside of its gestures toward genre heritage, Saulnier’s story says less than it seems set on, despite its silences. The determined absence of dialogue for large swathes of the film—superbly shouldered by Blair’s array of facial tics, if laboured a little when left too long—is paramount to its streamlined structure, which focuses firmly on actions and reactions, and the incitement to both. It’s a film about family, at the frankest level, a sentiment suggested early in an intensely subtle scene before being pressed all too firmly in the final reel. The last moments are troubled in a way otherwise alien to the movie; where a character leaving a house at the start of the film sets the ball rolling, the same action at the end does so only for the eyes.
An undercurrent of insight into the ease of access to weapons in America is enough to warrant some wonder at Blue Ruin’s workings, but if it’s intentional at all it’s far from the movie’s chief concern. That, simply put, is playing with preconceptions to make a film that’s fantastically fun for its unerring ability to surprise. Buoyed by crisp lensing by Saulnier himself, channelling interiors and evening alike to an aesthetic twist on thematic darkness, Blue Ruin never aims for more nor less than to be a terrific time at the movies. And that it is: much as its Coen comparisons might render it akin to a greatest hits album compiled by a record company with restricted rights access, it’s easy to understand why it’s been so openly embraced.
Blue Ruin never aims for more nor less than to be a terrific time at the movies.