Vengeance is not for the weak, the inexperienced or the unprepared, and yet so many are drawn to it, and just as many fail. “Blue Ruin” is about a man too careful and timid to get himself killed but not nearly clever, resourceful or vicious enough to get himself out of trouble. Jeremy Saulnier’s film speaks to our constant struggle for survival in an urban world contained within a minimal Greek tragedy. It’s one of the finest surprise indie films of the year.
“I’d forgive you if you were crazy, but you’re not; you’re weak.” Those are the harsh words Dwight (Macon Blair) receives upon returning home to his wife Sam (Amy Hargreaves). For months he’s been living as a vagrant along the beach, rummaging for half eaten food at carnivals and sleeping in cars. Dwight’s hair is long and filthy, his beard consuming his face. Though the movie doesn’t specifically say, he’s on the run from his own past. When a police officer informs him that a man named Wade Cleland is being released from prison, Dwight follows Cleland home and plots to murder him in retaliation for killing his parents years ago.
Dwight is so helpless that he can’t even steal a gun. When he manages to scrounge up a knife, his stealth attack is clumsy and a bloody mess, and his getaway is even worse. Soon the Cleland clan is after him, staking out his family’s home and tracking his every move. His idiocy often gets the better of him, yet somehow he manages to stay alive.
“Blue Ruin” has a quiet tension and careful, close-to-the chest filmmaking that recreates the best of neo-noir from “Drive” to “No Country for Old Men” to the Coen Brothers classic “Blood Simple.” And yet along with Macon Blair’s timid, feeble performance is a delirious sense that this guy is never in control. When he shaves his beard and hair and tries acclimating to society, he looks pitiful and out of place in his own clothes.
He’s trying so hard that he’s almost comically clueless. While trying to badger answers out of a Cleland gang member he’s taken hostage, he gets too close and has his gun stolen away from him. But the changing, ambivalent tone leads to some of the movie’s biggest surprise deaths and shocking acts of spite and hatred coming from this otherwise nervously crippled man.
Yet unlike something like “No Country” or “Drive”, “Blue Ruin” and Saulnier recognize that even these vindictive, backwards hicks are people he’s dealing with. They’re just as timid, just as vulnerable in their homes, just as impulsive to the trigger and just as reluctant to get future generations caught in the same mess.
The film does not end well for anyone involved, but it’s a powerful ending that speaks to how vengeance, hate and the unpredictable messiness of it all can only lead to a foregone conclusion.
3 ½ stars