Blue Ruin (2013)
*****Condensed to avoid plot spoilers*****
I had read some good reviews of this film, and waited until it was cheap on Amazon, before buying the DVD at the end of last year. This American Indie release is a cleverly-conceived revenge thriller, offering all that you might expect from the genre, but delivering so much more.
It opens with the hapless Dwight, living in a dilapidated car, foraging in bins for scraps. He is a loner, bearded and shabby, avoiding contact with the outside world. Something has happened to bring him down, and we soon find out what that was. His parents had been killed some years earlier, and their killer is about to be released from jail. This galvanises Dwight into action. He gets the car going, shaves off his beard and unkempt locks, and heads for home, the unnamed town of his past. He has transformed from the scruffy tramp into a normal-looking man. The type you might see working in your local electrical shop, or trying to sell you insurance. He is an everyman figure, and you cannot help but be on his side, as he begins a difficult journey.
This is where the film builds its strengths. This could well have starred a craggy Bruce Willis, or slick-looking Mel Gibson. He would have a story seen in flashback, and be square-jawed, well-honed, driving along familiar sets, on the streets of Los Angeles, or Chicago. Blue Ruin eschews these classic stereotypes, offering instead a cast of unfamiliar faces, (to me, anyway) in unknown locations, looking like real people, minus the buff bodied stars, artificially whitened teeth, and world-weary smarts that have become so ubiquitous, to be almost a requirement. In Dwight, we have a scared man, determined to exact his own style of revenge. He knows nothing about violence, has never handled a gun, and only his will drives him on.
There is no love interest. Why would there be? The man has been living rough since abandoning his life years before. But you can be sure that other film-makers would have crow-barred in a lover, maybe an old flame, perhaps a waitress in a roadside diner. Director and writer Jeremy Saulnier knew better than to introduce such cliches. The woman that Dwight goes to see is his sister. He is worried about her safety, and must convince her to leave home. The criminal family responsible for his parents’ death is on to him, and hers is the only address they have. He looks up an old college friend, someone he hasn’t seen for so long, he needs a yearbook to remind himself. In some films, this role might be played by a co-star, or well-known tough guy. In Blue Ruin, he is an overweight loner, and his interest in weapons is why Dwight seeks him out. He teaches the hopeless friend how to use guns, and supplies him with what he needs too. But he has a feeling that Dwight will not be up to the task, so follows him, to help out if he needs it.
Much of the film concentrates on Dwight’s preparations. He defends his sister’s home against attack by the family he fears; and we see him trying to stay awake, jumping at sounds, the camera lingering on scenes, as he sits for hours in his prepared positions. He stalks his targets, going to their home when they are out, walking around, searching, discovering. The violence, when it happens, is shocking, and more effective for the scarcity of its inclusion. Dwight doesn’t immediately prevail. This isn’t Bruce Willis, after all. He fails at first, and has to come back again, ever closer to his enemies, always in more danger himself. Despite the quiet moments, the film manages to convey the tension that is always present, as well as the claustrophobic atmosphere, even in open spaces, brought on by Dwight’s lack of skill at what he is trying to achieve.
By the time he discovers that the events surrounding his parents’ death were not exactly as he had assumed, it is already too late. He must continue on his chosen path come what may, and we are certain that nothing will end well, for all concerned. By staying small, and avoiding big names, routine car chases, pointless love scenes, explosions, and decisive shoot-outs, Saulnier has crafted a small gem from what could have been a run of the mill, seen-it-all-before film; placing the thoughtful viewer into a situation that they could imagine themselves in, and showing just how difficult it can be to carry out your intentions. I loved it, and recommend it unreservedly.
And in case you were wondering about the title. It is the old car that Dwight was living in. It was a ruin, and was blue in colour. Here’s the trailer.