‘Blue Ruin’ is an impressive revenge thriller

Philadelphia Film Festival 2013

Blue Ruin
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Philadelphia Film Festival
United States, 2013

Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore work is an impressive display of slow burn revenge.

Dwight (Macon Blair) is an unassuming vagrant who receives startling news: the man who murdered his parents has been released from prison early. Dwight goes on an improbable quest for revenge, throwing his quiet existence into violent disorder.

Blue Ruin features some clever writing in reworking structural genre tropes.  Another revenge film would set its sights on a target and go full Death Wish until a bloody denouement.  Instead, Blue Ruin snuffs out its major target in the first act, throwing things for a structural loop and forcing Dwight into increasingly dangerous and unpredictable situations.

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Macon Blair plays Dwight as monotone and soft.  He starts with a ragged beard and the moment when it’s shaved off, revealing Dwight as a baby-faced ‘anyman,’ who seems more suited to a cubicle than back-country revenge is as shocking as it is funny.

Dwight can’t fire a gun, he’s not fast, and he doesn’t have any ‘look you in the eye before you die’ one-liners at the ready.  That’s part of the fun of Blue Ruin. Dwight’s not good at killing people.

The film rides a line between existential drifter narrative and deadpan-funny comedy.  The former might be closer to a Charles Bronson film of a different name as Dwight’s is less Paul Kersey and more Harmonica from Once Upon a Time in the West…just far less capable with a weapon; the latter bits, including an arrow from a crossbow to the thigh, lighten the mood, but also work well with the established revisionist structure as it’s Dwight’s clumsiness that is the source of nearly all laughs.

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There’s a misstep in the second-third of the film, which is odd because it’s also one of the more crowd-pleasing moments.  Dwight tracks down an old high-school friend, Ben (Devin Ratray).  Ben works at a metal bar, lives in the country, and owns a lot of guns.  He’s the perfect candidate to be Dwight’s smalltime, onetime arms dealer; he sets his old friend up with a weapon and sends him off.

The scene that follows, which includes Dwight’s first, failed attempt at many things revenge – shooting, kidnapping, killing – also features Ben proverbially riding in to the rescue.  It’s a moment that’s violent, light-hearted, and truly cathartic, but it also feels out of place.  The majority of Blue Ruin – and when the film is at its best – offers no hope or release in death.  The violence is senseless but inevitable throughout, and in this one scene Saulnier takes a misguided break from that thrust to revel in pure, R-rated gore.

Nevertheless, Blue Ruin remains taut and compelling for its tight duration, ultimately spiraling into a contentious, white-knuckle climax.

- Neal Dhand

The Philadelphia Film Festival celebrates 22 years and runs from October 17 to October 27, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please see the Philadelphia Film Society’s official site.



By Neal Dhand

Neal Dhand is a writer, director, and professor in Philadelphia. He's currently in post on the heist film Crooked & Narrow. He also blogs occasionally at DCP Film.

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