Buzzing by your head like an arrow shot by a crossbow wielding redneck with revenge on his mind, Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is a violent crime drama dripping with blood and sarcasm. Using a cleaver to hack off some DNA from the Coen Brothers’ catalogue and cleaning off the stains with some Jim Thompson turpentine, Blue Ruin is a nifty little indie thriller. Like a shotgun blast in a darkened room, the movie gets to the point quickly and holds the audience’s attention. We feel as if we are on line at a Hardee’s and some armed country bumpkin busts in to steal some burgers and hold us hostage while he waits for the meat to cook.
Fast food probably doesn’t seem so quick when you’re staring at the business end of a rifle, waiting for the fries to be done. Don’t let any of that grease burn your face or get on your Soldier of Fortune magazine. Don’t worry if your brother gets knocked off, you have another one you can go duck hunting with. It’s tough to find a newsstand in the backwoods, however. Even if you own a fleet of limousines. If you are going to be driving a bunch of bedwetters to the prom, they probably don’t read Soldier of Fortune. And Rolling Stone hasn’t written about Charlie Daniels in over thirty years.
Blue Ruin opens with Dwight(Macon Blair) living in his ancient Pontiac Bonneville on the beach. The car is rusted and corroded from the salty, bitchy sea air. Dwight has unkempt hair and long beard so he looks like your prototypical homeless dude, or a guitarist from some hipster band that plays Brooklyn coffee houses. He baths in houses and ducks out the back when the families return home. In the shadows of a boardwalk carnival, he dumpster dives for food and supplies. It might not be Trader Joe’s, but it is free and you don’t have to deal with the hyper-sensitive clientele. Wherever you see high quantities of people purchasing granola and tofu you can bet that three quarters of them are offended by something that the average five year old laughs off.
One day Dwight is brought to the local police station and they give him some news that chills him to the core. As the camera slowly zooms in on his face, we see that his life has jumped the divider from meager street and is about to careen down nightmare lane. Throughout the movie, Blair is excellent playing the taciturn Dwight. His weary eyes portray a litany of capitulations to his rueful existence.
The man convicted of killing Dwight’s parents has been released from prison. This prompts Dwight to get the vengeance machine on the road. Wearing the Bonneville’s keys around his neck like priceless religious jewelry, Dwight prepares the Bonneville to go mobile. He returns some cans for the deposit and purchases a map and a postcard. He briefly looks at some guns in a pawn shop, but his financial situation makes him settle for the postcard, which he mails to his estranged sister. In this day and age it is quaint to watch him send a postcard. Anyone can get a free email account and access to a computer. Emails don’t have the literary aesthetics of a postcard, however. They are impersonal, antiseptic and they get to their destination in a nanosecond.
Emails are the equivalent of jerking off into a test tube at some clinic for experimental purposes. Postcards have character and seem uniquely American for some reason. It brings up images of WWII soldiers sending their sweethearts postcards from overseas, or children sending Christmas lists to Santa Claus. Like all good crime movies taking place in the USA, Blue Ruin shows us the dark side of the American Dream. There are some really rotten apples in that orchard mom uses to put in her pies for the church bake sale.
You need balls made out of buckshot if you want to go to war with the Cleland clan. Armed to the teeth and probably owning two books–Mein Kampf and the Bible–the Clelands are a made in the USA nightmare. They bury family members in their backyard, next to piles of rusted trash and maybe an old car on blocks. Obviously not a supporter of Apple, they use flip phones and a land line with an attached answering machine. One could surmise that they may do their taxes on a Commodore 64(that’s a computer for those under thirty). The Clelands could probably go toe to toe with the Leatherface family and at least get a draw. Dwight is resourceful–choosing to be homeless he needs to be smart to survive. However, an assassin’s precise planning skills may not be something he is blessed with.
Dwight follows the limousine riding Cleland clan from the prison to a dive bar as they celebrate the release of Wade Cleland for the murder of Dwight’s parents. After a gruesome confrontation with the Clelands leaves Dwight without his Bonneville and a nasty wound on his hand, he ducks into an empty home to clean up. He shaves his beard and chops his hair off, leaving him looking like a soft music teacher. After dressing his wound, Dwight scans the television for reports of his messy encounter at the bar.
There are none.
Dwight pays a visit to his estranged sister Sam(Amy Hargreaves) and explains what happened over some greasy sandwiches at a fast food joint. Dwight doesn’t care what happens to himself, he just wants Sam and her kids left out of the war that is now in full swing. He convinces her to take the kids and head off to Pittsburgh. Alone in her well maintained home that night, Dwight peers through the curtains and looks out onto the darkened street.
Under a streetlight, he sees the Blue Bonneville. It’s a harbinger of all the violence to follow.
Jeremy Saulnier adds some really nice touches to Blue Ruin that elevate it out of the bloody puddle of your average, bargain bin DVD revenge flick. The writing, direction and cinematography(all handled by Saulnier) are very well done. It was nice to see him make Dwight’s journey a painful and arduous one. For instance, the trouble Dwight has stealing a gun and how he must improvise afterwards to get things done.
Dwight is wounded again and we see that overdone scene when a character is at the drug store, purchasing items to do some home surgery on their wounds. In a gruesome display, Dwight fails and must seek professional help. Usually in these films people all seem equipped with the knowledge of a neurosurgeon, slicing out bullets and sewing up wounds with fishing line. There never seems to be a need for Obamacare in most movies. This type of self-reliance should be encouraged.
Besides Macon Blair, most of the cast just appear in one or two scenes. Devin Ratray is good as Dwight’s old friend Ben, who gives him some weaponry and helps him out of a sticky situation. He played Buzz, Kevin McCallister’s older brother and tormentor in Home Alone. Eve Plumb plays Kris, the matriarch of the Cleland family and one of the reasons the bloody feud started in the first place. Perhaps Kris was a middle child and felt unloved because her older sister was hot and she was plain and awkward, causing her to act out as an adult, fucking up multiple lives because she was an insecure twat?
A special mention should go out to Kevin Kolack who plays Teddy Cleland. He gets some of the best lines in the flick and he delivers them from the trunk of the blue Bonneville. He is great fun to watch and he seems to be having a blast revealing some dark secrets to a horrified Dwight.
I would hate to be stuck on the tarmac for 90 minutes with the Cleland family. They are obnoxious sociopaths and I bet they have body odor that smells like ape farts. However, Blue Ruin is a great investment of your cinematic time and I can’t wait to see more from Mr. Saulnier.