“Blue Ruin” is a taut and deliberate revenge thriller suggesting that just because you may have the urge and the drive to exact revenge on someone, it doesn’t mean it’s as easy as picking up a gun and popping a cap in the bastard’s head.
In most revenge movies, the protagonists make it look easy, and most of the time they have at least some past experience with guns or weapons or fighting. In “Blue Ruin,” the act of revenge feels more like a chore, and the protagonist has basically no idea what he’s doing when it comes to using guns or even knives.
Director Jeremy Saulnier throws us right into action without any real setup. Dwight (Macon Blair) has been wandering aimlessly for the past couple years, living out of his old, rusted car in a beachfront town and rummaging through trashcans and using other people’s bathrooms to clean himself.
Already, we can infer that this is the aftermath. Some terrible tragedy has caused Dwight to go off into isolation and live as a vagrant. A little later, we find out that a man named Wade Cleveland killed Dwight’s parents, and he’s being released from prison.
Saulnier doesn’t employ any flashbacks because he doesn’t need to. Instead, the film stays in the here and now and focuses on Dwight’s personal struggle. We don’t get much background on him, but we can surmise that this tragedy had a major impact on his psyche, causing him to distance himself from his remaining family and, in some ways, society. He’s been dishonored and rendered incomplete, and the only thing that can make him whole again is vengeance.
So he tracks Wade down at his family bar and does the deed. But things are just getting started. This happens within the first 20 minutes or so, and while Dwight may have killed Wade, he’s incurred the wrath of Wade’s crazy, gun-obsessed family, and now they’re coming after Dwight and Dwight’s remaining estranged family: his sister, Sam (Amy Hargreaves), and her two kids.
At 90 minutes, “Blue Ruin” is admittedly brisk, but Saulnier keeps the pace unhurried, keeping the viewer on edge and letting them soak in every little situation. The movie is also relativity quiet: There’s not a lot of dialogue, and the haunting score by Brooke Will Blair hums faintly in the background, occasionally flaring up at intense moments.
There are some gnarly scenes of violence, but Saulnier doesn’t overdo it, keeping the picture realistic in feeling.
Dwight is a man of few words. At one point, when he runs into Sam after years and years, he mentions how he usually “doesn’t talk this much,” and is passive in demeanor. In that way he’s reminiscent of Ryan Gosling’s quiet and peaceful character in “Drive.” But unlike Gosling’s character, who, when provoked, could turn into a vicious killer, Dwight remains timid and inexperienced when he tries to exact revenge.
Dwight struggles to kill Wade at the beginning, and when he has one of the other family members at gunpoint, he temporarily loses the upper hand. He has the drive and motivation to avenge his parents’ honor, but he doesn’t have the know-how.
This is what makes the character and the movie so interesting. Dwight’s need for revenge is a sickness, and he can’t live with himself unless he can satisfy it.
Overall, “Blue Ruin” does an effective job of showing what it might be like if an average, timid man took the law into his own hands. And like all successful revenge thrillers, there’s a feeling of satisfaction at the end. Honor has been restored.
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