Review by Justin Monroe (@40yardsplash)
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Stars: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack
Running time: 90 minutes
Has America ever encountered an apple pie that it didn't slice to death? Violence pervades life in the U.S. It's such a part of our reality and our fiction that society is generally numb to it. But every now and then an American film forces audiences to look in a mirror before smashing their faces into the glass, perfectly capturing a troubled culture and the grim, ugly reality of the acts we commit to settle disputes. Like No Country for Old Men, In the Bedroom, Elephant, A History of Violence, and the Peckinpah catalogue, Jeremy Saulnier's Kickstarter-funded Blue Ruin is one of those poignant films.
Devastated by his parents' murder, Dwight (the award-worthy Macon Blair) lives a sad, solitary, vagrant's life on the fringes of society. He sneaks baths in people's homes, eats out of dumpsters, and sleeps in his car by the Maryland shore, where his family used to vacation. When he learns that his parents' killer, who took a plea deal for a reduced sentence, is getting out of prison, his aimless existence suddenly takes on a vengeful purpose. But what Dwight, blinded by inertia and his jittery pursuit of retribution in his Virginia hometown, fails to recognize is that the killer has a family too, and an eye for an eye creates a boom in the eye patch industry. As blood spills, it is inevitable that more will flow.
In Blue Ruin, when a knife, arrow, or bullet graphically meets skin, it is wholly and appropriately unsatisfying. The acts are brutal and unpleasant and, more important, Saulnier is clear that each of them has an unsettling ripple effect. The aggrieved always need someone to feel their pain, and it doesn't matter if the target is the perpetrator of violence or merely someone whose death will hurt them. In the middle of it all is Dwight, played masterfully by Blair, who brings fragility and reluctance to the decidedly non-action hero protagonist. His understanding of violence is sadly misguided and no match for a hardscrabble, gun-loving, hunting family that is familiar with blood-letting. What he learns of it in Saulnier's stunning and brilliant sophomore effort will ruin not only him but anyone who watches it.