With the new year approaching, we celebrate our films of 2014. Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin is up.
Blue Ruin completely ambushed me. I went in knowing very little about it, except that it was a revenge movie, but what I wasn’t expecting was a goddamn brilliant revenge movie. What was even more amazing was that director Jeremy Saulnier used Kickstarter to finance it all. The film doesn’t just riff on the tropes of revenge fiction, but amplifies them to the point where it transcends the genre and crosses the threshold into mythos.
The rustic milieu offers up a hyper-real but still convincing America populated by emotional men committing violent acts
The rustic milieu of Blue Ruin is the kind you see in the fiction of Joe R Lansdale or Jason Aaron; a slightly hyper-real but still convincing America populated by emotional men committing violent acts. Macon Blair’s Dwight is a man who is so consumed with grief after the murder of his father that he disappears inside his old blue sedan and checks out of the world. His purpose in life is rekindled when the murderer is released from prison and he goes on a mission of revenge. Fans of this genre know all too well how that is going to work out.
As Dwight, Blair is a revelation. When we first meet him, he is filthy, covered in tattered rags with his face obscured by a tangle of knotted hair. When he re-enters society he transforms his appearance to the man he was before the death of his father. What we find, however, is the image of a normal man, mundane and unremarkable. To witness his violence is to reinforce the idea that revenge is an agent of transformation – the cleaner he is on the outside, the more corrupt he becomes on the inside. Blair personifies this nature perfectly.
Saulnier takes on cinematographer duties for Blue Ruin and gives the film an ultra-bright, earthy quality of greens and yellows that makes the blue colour of Dwight’s car pop out of the landscape, while the splashes of blood and displays of violence are made all the more stark and unforgiving. This is a daytime suburban noir, where the violent actions of determined men take place amongst the houses and cul-de-sacs of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, probably the last place one would expect a story like this to play out.
The film takes on the qualities of myth, as the story unfolds to really define the archetypes of which we all instinctively respond to
Blue Ruin is a grim and bloody revenge drama that sticks very closely to the genre’s typical elements. The notion of family honour hangs over the proceedings, which pays tribute to the Western (the two genres usually go hand in hand). But Saulnier’s interest lies in the seeming inevitability of it all, knowing full well this is the sick, violent heart that beats at the centre of all revenge narratives. At the same time there is a willingness to upend our expectations, as Dwight’s mission becomes more and more complicated, despite his desire to keep it perfectly and bloodily simple.
Despite being within the well-worn genre of the revenge film, Blue Ruin succeeds by not succumbing to cliché. It is more like a Greek tragedy that builds and builds before reaching a nail biting and perfectly ambiguous climax. The film takes on the qualities of myth, or an age-old fable, as the story unfolds to really define the archetypes of which we all instinctively respond to. We watch as these characters get caught up in that all too familiar self-perpetuating cycle of violence, and Dwight’s journey takes him to that heart of darkness while all we can do is watch and wait for his inevitable destruction.
Saulnier puts a twist into the tale which elevates the typical revenge arc to an entirely new level, by introducing something rarely seen in these kinds of films: hope. Even then, the hope is not certain, but just that slight glimmer, that weak possibility might be enough to break the cycle of violence once and for all. This hope, no matter how slight, is imperative to our physical, social and spiritual survival. If the cycle of violence continues unabated, what world are we leaving behind for the succeeding generations? If never-ending war is the bar we have set, then there will be no desire for any achievement beyond it.
At the heart of the film is the idea that we should all be extending an open hand to something better
Blue Ruin is brilliantly gripping cinema in the vein of Get Carter or The Limey: on the surface there is a moral bankruptcy that infects the majority of its characters, but at the heart of the film is the idea that we should all be extending an open hand to something better, but also with a realisation that the grasp could very well exceed our reach. But the most important thing is that we at least try; we have to.
All images: Picturehouse Entertainment