Blue Ruin

By R. David

Viewed April 25, 2014

Just a few weeks after “Joe” – the riveting, Southern-fried tale of redemption and revenge starring Nicolas Cage in masterful return to form – comes “Blue Ruin”; another sweat-soaked slice of vengeance and grim Americana.  It may lack the above-the-title star power of Cage, but it features a lead performance from Macon Blair that is every bit as revelatory, and perhaps even more extraordinary.

Blair is Dwight, a disheveled recluse and drifter with a blank stare and the face of an apathetic child.  But his nebbish exterior is masking a vengeful rage boiling just beneath the surface; a fury that erupts when he discovers the man who killed his parents – and who is thereby responsible setting in motion the events that led Dwight to his listless, damaged existence – has been released from prison.  Dwight hatches a half-cocked execution plot that he is hardly capable of properly planning or executing.  Blair’s still, childlike aura lends Dwight a naïve innocence.  He’s in completely over his head, which ratchets up the suspense as well as rendering Dwight an extremely sympathetic character despite his bloodlust.

“Blue Ruin” is directed by Jeremy Saulnier, who is also a cinematographer; and there is a hair-raising merging of art and craft on display in this, only his second feature film. He has an obvious gift for conveying a sweeping, atmospheric sense of place, but Saulnier also drops crushing intimate moments on the audience both small and silent, and thundering and fierce.  He is a savvy enough director to present the violent moments sparingly but with an intensity and volume that is completely at odds with the tone set by the rest of the film; so when they do occur they land with the impact of a hammer to the skull.  Conversely – or similarly, depending on how you want to look at it – there are muted moments of heartbreaking quiet and revelation.

In many ways “Blue Ruin” is one of the best Coen Brothers movies the Coens never made.  Like the best of their celebrated works, this film is intimate and atmospheric, minimalist but with a vast scope and shocking outbursts, steeped in heady moral themes and a growing, suffocating tension, as well as expertly paced and performed.

I can’t say enough about this film, Saulnier’s direction, or Blair’s performance; so I’ll simply say this:  “Blue Ruin” deserves Oscar nominations for Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture.  It is the best movie of 2014 so far.

4 Stars (Out of 4)



By R. David

Viewed April 12, 2014

“Joe” is a film about redemption.  It is found both on-screen and off.   For Nicolas Cage it is a stunning return form for an actor who has too-long traded on his combustible persona at best, or looked sleepy and disinterested phoning in performances in generic material at worst.  He is reinvigorated and firing on all cylinders in this atmospheric and powerful drama from director David Gordon Green who, after helming “The Sitter” and “Your Highness”, could use a little redemption himself.

Their combined commitment and ambition in this adaptation of Larry Brown’s acclaimed novel elevates “Joe’s” relatively familiar narrative and turns it into something truly special.  “Joe” is a hard-boiled Southern drama, so tightly wound you can feel it fraying at the seams.  Like its titular character, the movie is primed to explode.

Cage plays Joe Ransom, a hard-drinking, chain-smoking ex-con who runs a tree-poisoning business.  He is well-liked by his employees, most of whom are alcoholics or ex-cons themselves.  But Joe is the kind of integrity-driven man who endears himself to others.  His employees respect him because he is willing to give them a second chance.  He also offers a fair wage in a community where jobs and hope are scarce. 

Joe hires Gary (Tye Sheridan), a 15-year-old who says he and his father Wade (Gary Poulter) desperately need work.  He’s eager and excited for the opportunity.  His father is not.  Wade is an old, lumbering and violent alcoholic who would rather steal money than work for it and will viciously beat anyone who gets in his way, including his son.  Joe is always struggling to contain his own violent tendencies which are bubbling ever closer to the surface the more protective he becomes of young Gary, and the more he realizes the danger Wade presents. 

 “Joe” is very much Cage’s show, but Green colors in the margins of Joe’s bonding with Gary and his growing conflict with Wade with a bevy of sublime revelations and colorful supporting characters.  It is the flavor these character developments add that renders “Joe” more than simply another depressed-rural parable.  “Joe” is more about the journey than the destination; and Green peppers the journey with moments of disturbing violence a shocking emotional outbursts..  At its best, his direction and the tone he creates here recall Terrence Malick’s “Badlands”.  But it’s Cage who is most often used as Green’s tool of expression, and whether he is struggling to stay restrained or succumbing to his unhinged emotions, Cage is pure, riveting perfection.  It is a captivating, sympathetic, Oscar-worthy performance (the parallels of an actor who has been so decried over the last two decades for his tendency to go wildly over-the-top playing a character who must force restraint upon himself should go without saying, but not unnoticed).

Though it’s probably not intentional on the script’s part, the Wade character often threatens to shift the focus of the film from the titular character simply because Poulter’s performance is so damn terrifying.  His raw, natural and unforgettable performance is all the more amazing when you discover he was a homeless, bipolar man and “Joe” is his lone film credit.

Unfortunately, that will remain the case as Poulter was found dead in a homeless shelter before the film’s release. 

The only film Gary Poulter will ever be in is also one of 2014’s very best.

4 Stars (Out of 4)