A lone drifter steals into a stranger’s house to take a bath. When he hears the owners coming home, he exits through the window, naked, wild, and unkempt. This man’s name is Dwight (Macon Blair), and he is anything but a hardened criminal. However, what he is about to do, only select amounts of people are capable of doing.
Dwight has a terrible back story. Dwight’s mother and father were murdered by Wade years ago—or so Dwight thinks. Wade has been released from prison, and Dwight makes up his mind to exact his revenge. This is not a morality tale to see if Dwight has what it takes to take another’s life (he is going to, no ifs, ands, or buts) but whether or not Dwight will be able to handle the consequences of his actions. Dwight does execute Wade (although not in a very tidy manner) and thinks that his work here is done. It’s not. Dwight’s acts have done little more than make sure the wheel of vengeance continues to spin. Now Wade’s clan (The Cleland Gang) is coming after Dwight and his family. They trade blows and bodies until they are all left toothless and blind. Blue Ruin is a stark picture of American life and the history of violence that burns just beneath the surface.
In fiction, events unfold and change a person into something wholly different. In reality, these events force our hand but often cannot change the inner core of who we are. Take comic books: When young Bruce Wayne’s parents are gunned down in a robbery gone wrong, Wayne resolves to avenge his parent’s death. He trains and uses his fortune to create the icon of Batman, and he becomes the Dark Knight of Gotham. There is something heroic in Batman, even if his alter ego becomes a persona of fascism and a model of vigilante justice. America is no stranger to vigilante justice, and in some cases, we can cheer for it even while we decry it. Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971) and Death Wish (Michael Winner, 1974) are two examples of men who can dole it out with the best of them, but they are not to be idolized (at least not in the originals—the sequels, that’s a different story entirely). When I hear gun advocates sing the praises of the Second Amendment and lobby more gun ownership, I think they fantasize themselves as these vigilantes. If worse comes to worst, they want to be well-armed so they can go and hunt down those that crossed them. I am not one of those wannabe vigilantes, and neither is Dwight. With a little help from his friend, some blind luck, and a general disregard for his own well-being, Dwight manages to bring some retribution to his enemies, but it is not polished. It is not refined. It is real.
Blue Ruin was written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, his second feature film, and frankly, it must piss off established studio directors that Saulnier is this good so soon out of the gate. Saulnier helps create a level of paranoia by telling this tale primarily in close-ups and toying with focal depth. This allows for anything to come from outside of the frame to shock and disrupt. Twice it is used for great effect, one of them involving a crossbow. Is that guy shooting at Dwight with a crossbow? Yep. It makes perfect sense once you think about it; the bad guys have come to ambush Dwight at his sister’s house. If they open fire, surely someone in the neighborhood will hear and call the cops. A crossbow is deadly and makes virtually no noise. Blue Ruin is a fiction film that operates in a non-fiction world.
America has a problem with guns and gun-related violence. Blue Ruin doesn’t address this problem bluntly, but it does hint at it, and it does it quite thoughtfully. I remember years ago someone rationalizing that the reason America had an appalling amount of gun violence had to do with our history of the Wild, Wild West. That Cowboys and Indians still were a part of our DNA. I see that occasionally in movies and TV, but Blue Ruin takes it one step further. Blue Ruin is part western set in Virginia. That crossbow I mentioned? Well, one of the arrows missed Dwight completely and stuck in the neighbor’s lawn. Not a significant arrow, and not a significant moment, but Saulnier returns to it at the end of the movie. The arrow has been lodged into someone’s lawn, and no one seems to notice. A woman jogs by on her morning run, completely unaware of the violence that happened here.
Blue Ruin (2013)
Written and Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Produced by: Richard Peete, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani
Starring: Macon Blair, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, Brent Werzner, Stacy Rock
RADiUS-TWC, Rated R, Running Time 90 minutes, Released April 25, 2014