Blue Ruin is comparable in a couple ways to a film I reviewed last week, Under the Skin. Both films feature soft-spoken, often silent protagonists who their respective films try to frame in eerie and tense situations. However, where Under the Skin came off as boring and meaningless, Blue Ruin is a masterpiece of cinematographic storytelling, relying on the body language and apparent inner torment of the main character to carry a story that starts as a mystery to the audience, but gradually unravels into a blood-drenched revenge tale that feels almost on par with the Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple and No Country For Old Men. I can’t say I enjoy this film as much as I did the Coens’ work, but it is a damn good version of exactly what it is trying to be.
Dwight is a homeless man, living out of vacationers’ vacant houses and dumpsters just to get by. He finds out that a particular murderer is getting out of prison in a few days, and he starts to prepare for taking the man out. It isn’t readily clear exactly why Dwight wants to kill this man, but the film cleverly leads the audience along with sparse yet vital bits of dialogue, making a lot of scenes make sense only in retrospect and consequently providing a lot of “a-ha” moments. This is a gratifying way to non-linearly tell a story, for the actions of the characters makes sense to them, if not us right away, and exposition is minimal if not non-existent, so it feels like real events happening, and we as the audience are left to piece together the events that led up to the present day. This is a film that rewards paying attention, and it’s hard not to after the initial confrontation between Dwight and the murderer, which happens very early on.
And Dwight is a great character, very unlike the traditional hero or anti-hero of your usual revenge saga. He’s not an angry man, nor an apparently vengeful one. He’s quiet and demure, and when he commits acts of violence, there is not rage in his eyes, only a sadness that belies a sense of obligation to do what he thinks is right. He’s a man of few words, but wears his emotions on his sleeve, complex as they are. Macon Blair does a fantastic job portraying such a complicated character, and his performance is damn-near Oscar-worthy.
If I had to make one nitpick, I’d have to say that the use of music in the film leaves something to be desired. Most of the soundtrack consists of songs that are playing at various locations in the film, namely in bars or cars. However, the songs that play don’t really match the mood of the experience most of the time, and the eerie background score doesn’t even stop, so the two soundtracks end up competing for attention in a very distracting fashion. Thankfully, this never happens during any pivotal points in the film, but it’s annoying nonetheless.
Blue Ruin is a great film and it deserves recognition as such. It has likely flown under most people’s radar; I didn’t even know anything about it until I started watching. I hope that this review encourages more people to pick it up, because it would be a damn shame to watch this one disappear into obscurity.
Ever discover a little-known film that you really wanted others to see? Let me know about it in the comments below, and maybe I’ll watch it!