Revenge Tale Blue Ruin Fully Revitalizes The Genre. Yes, It's That Good.
Revenge is a dish best served with a knife, a crossbow and semi-automatic rifles in Jeremy Saulnier’s bloody and brilliant sophomore feature, Blue Ruin.
When the film opens, a drifter named Dwight (Mason Blair) is coasting through life on a beach. He's dirty, living on a steady diet of trashcan food, and his face looks as if it's never felt a clean shave. He breaks into houses just to take a bath, but he’s not a bad or a harmful man — he's just trying to survive. Things aren't so bad; this bum has built a home and life for himself in a place where things are simple and uncomplicated.
But, while sleeping in his rusty, old and beaten-up blue Bonneville, Dwight gets a surprise visit from the local sheriff, who seems to know him really well. She tells him that a man from his past has just been released from prison, and from the deer-in-headlights look on Dwight's face, we know: As his eyes turn from scared to sad to pained to angry, it becomes clear that this isn't a man Dwight wants to exchange presents with on Christmas.
This all leads to scuffle — and, soon, a crime scene — as Dwight’s embarks on a fiery rampage of revenge and, eventually, finds himself the target of one.
What makes Dwight the perfect, unconventional anti-hero is the ambitious size of his bite. He's short, he's skinny, he's never held a gun in his life and he'd probably apologize to a butterfly if he hurt its feelings. And Blair is great, completely embodying Dwight and bringing him to life with subtle, but fierce, intensity. During a scene in which Dwight's stuck in a house, outnumbered and outgunned, you can feel the character's anxiety and anger vibrate through him. Boom, acting! And when the story takes a dramatic — and at times, comedic — turn, Blair’s portrayal of Dwight displays a level of commitment that's admirable, so much so that the performances demands that audiences root for him all the way to the bitter, brutal end.
Revenge tales have been told before, sure, but in Saulnier's take — he directs, writes and serves as the cinematographer here — the genre breathes new life.
There's a realism at play here: Blue Ruin is violent but it impressively avoids the glorification of bloodshed; instead, Saulnier deftly shows just how terrifying, unnerving, sad and awful it is to take a life. His protagonist develops reasonably, too, losing the boyish innocence he boasts at the film's start while somehow retaining the understanding that doesn't know what he's doing and that he doesn't want to do what he's doing. He's just compelled to protect the only family left in his life, is all. And at whatever cost necessary.
Blue Ruin flourishes as a result. No hyperbole here: It's of the best shoot-'em-up-until-they-are-all-dead-dead-dead revenge quests ever.
An earlier version of this review first ran on ChaseWhale.com. Blue Ruin opens Friday, May 9, at the Angelika Theater.