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)