Dr. Donna Copeland’s
What Blue Ruin lacks in character development it makes up for with suspenseful silence. Winning a best directing prize at the 2013 Cannes film festival, Jeremy Saulnier has created a revenge thriller that subtracts famous faces, an embedded plot, and literally everything we have come to expect in this genre of film. Instead, he focuses on our lead character fumbling around trying to kill those who destroyed his family. Macon Blair is such an antihero that part of the suspense in the script relies on his social awkwardness trying to survive or retaliate. The big question is if Blair is a strong enough unknown actor to satisfy the audience’s lack of character development the way a bigger name would.
A local Virginia Beach police officer informs Dwight (Blair), who lives in his car by the beach, that the man imprisoned for murdering his parents is being released. Dwight’s nomad existence is abruptly cut short as he heads for the prison and follows the accused to their hideout. Dwight does what he sets out to do, injuring himself in the process, and leaving his car connecting him to the crime. Now the retaliation is coming his way, as the entire Cleland clan comes after Dwight and his sister, who he races to protect and confess what he has done.
The suspense really is in the silence. Most of the build up to action is Dwight having inner dialogue, which is expression through his breathing patterns, trembling, or trying to heal himself from wounds. Dwight’s klutz-like behavior also sets the suspense in a way that no one believes this guy will be able to defeat these backwoods, redneck murderers. The few scenes of interaction Dwight has with the local police officer, his sister and friend from school all give us insight into the situation and our leading man’s motives. Is it enough? That's the real question. Do we as an audience feel satisfied about all this bloodshed over a story we barely understand?
The most interesting scene for me was Dwight’s need for assistance from his best friend from years ago with a supply of firearms. Devin Ratray (Nebraska) is the friend Dwight needs at that moment. With a man in the trunk, the entire field sequence is the centerpiece of the film, the turning point of either walking away from the killing or continuing to erase the entire clan. The short running time and the suspense might be enough to sustain those of us looking for an alternative to big budget thrillers.
Final Thought – Suspenseful silence sustains Blue Ruin as a partially satisfying thriller.
By: Dustin Chase
I must confess that I did not see much to like in Blue Ruin, a film about a young man apparently grieving for his murdered parents. Dwight (Macon Blair) is sleeping in his car near the beach when a policewoman takes him to the station and informs him that the man convicted for killing his parents is being released from prison. He keeps a watchful eye out, not for his own safety, but to take revenge.
The problem is, this man is inept and a klutz in almost every way, although he does seem to be good at planning and rigging up means of aggression and protection at times; at other times, he does stupid things like leaving his car keys beside the body of the man he has killed. He pulls for little sympathy from the viewer, not only because of how he is incapably taking on vengeance, but he consistently steals or uses other people’s property whenever he wants.
As time goes on, it becomes apparent that Dwight sees this as a Hatfield-McCoy type of feud, pitting his family against the Clelands, and although he says he wants it to stop, he simply fuels the fire.
The better moments in the film are when Dwight goes to see his old friend Ben (Devin Ratray) to ask him for a gun. Ben lends some sense to this mostly nonsensical film and realizes Dwight is not going to know how to use a gun. He has a large store of them, and after astutely sizing Dwight up, gives him one that he thinks he might be able to handle. Fortunately for Dwight, Ben has a protective streak, and will give him more than advice later on.
The way guns are brandished in this film, I came away thinking it is at least a good advertisement for better gun control; on the other hand, gun enthusiasts may see it as justification for everyone owning a firearm for their own protection. Dwight rarely encounters a locked door at the residences he enters.
Jeremy Saulnier, the writer/director won the FIPRESCI Award for directors at Cannes in 2013, and Macon Blair captures the sad, bumbling, fuming-under-the-surface Dwight. Devin Ratray also succeeds in his portrayal of Dwight’s good buddy gun expert. But although I think the acting is very fine, I cannot see the point of the script.