Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Cast: Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb
Watch Blue Ruin online in the UK: Netflix UK / TalkTalk TV / iTunes
If you’ve been looking for something to fill the gap since Breaking Bad came to an end, you could do worse than to check out Blue Ruin, a crowd-funded feature film by writer-director Jeremy Saulnier, which has the same Southern fried sensibility as Vince Gilligan’s lauded TV epic.
The gallows sense of humour, the incongruous soundtrack choices and, most importantly, the sense that violence has consequences are all present and correct here. In the latter regard, Blue Ruin is a film that doesn’t merely blow the revenge movie rulebook to smithereens, but also conscientiously examines how such an act should leave you looking over your shoulder for return fire from anybody who quite liked that rulebook.
Our unlikely hero is Dwight Evans (Blair), who has retreated into vagrancy out of grief over an unknown trauma. A sympathetic cop picks him up and takes him to the station, to simply tell him that a man called Wade Cleland has been released from prison. The news galvanises Dwight on a terrible mission of vengeance, with tragic and far-reaching consequences.
It’s quite typical for such movies to feebly proclaim that “he who goes looking for revenge should dig two graves” without ever exploring an older maxim, that violence only begets more violence. They’re focused on catharsis – and on the moment when the hero has murdered absolutely everyone who did them wrong – rather than on the mild depression that would more realistically follow.
Saulnier doesn’t shy away from violence here, either, but he doesn’t allow himself or the film to have nearly as much fun with it as genre-loving gore-hounds. On top of that, there’s a steadfast refusal to spoon-feed exposition about the characters.
The actors live up to the script’s incredible economy of story. Macon Blair leads a cast made up of unrecognised faces and his Dwight is an incredibly watchable character, more heartbroken and hurt than overflowing with righteous rage. He’s a sad and weary character and everybody is more than willing to tell him so – an old friend (Devin Ratray) informs him that his emotion will cause him to fail, while his sister (Amy Hargreaves) tells him in no uncertain terms that, although she could forgive his intentions if he were crazy, they only represent how weak he is.
That both the character and the film take that on the chin, and keep going, feels almost unique in a revenge movie. This is a sad, bleak film (albeit one that’s not above some appropriately dark humour) that is utterly gripping and exciting in its masterful pathos.
Blue Ruin gives no quarter to the notion of glory in retribution. Instead, Saulnier strips his story back to a number of powerful performances and a deft, unpredictable succession of people lashing out at one another – either from hurt or from spite. Understated though it may be, it’s a stunning and subversive piece of work.
Blue Ruin is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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