I’ve come to realize that I’m attracted to movies that employ a more visual form of filmmaking. By that I mean movies that rely heavily on the camera to tell their stories. These types of films often feature sparse dialogue, revealing imagery, and very unique performances from their leads. They tend to speak to many of our senses as an audience and I like that. We get a lot of this in “Blue Ruin’, a deeply engrossing revenge thriller from Jeremy Saulnier. Revenge movies are a dime a dozen which is why “Blue Ruin” is so refreshing and satisfying.
Saulnier is a cinematographer at heart, but he has one other feature film to his credit – 2007’s casually titled “Murder Party”. In “Blue Ruin” he takes a much different approach and the result is a film worthy of attention and consideration. Saulnier serves as writer, director, and cinematographer, and he gained funding after a successful Kickstarter campaign. The movie turned some heads at the Cannes Film Festival and soon found a distributor and a limited theatrical release. Thank goodness for that because “Blue Ruin” is a fantastic film.
The story centers around a man named Dwight (Macon Blair). He’s a vagrant living out of his beat-up Pontiac Bonneville in a northeastern beach town. Through a series of informative scenes we see him finding meals out of dumpsters and breaking into homes to bathe. But sprinkled in are tiny clues that seem to indicate that Dwight’s situation wasn’t always this bad. Things take a dramatic turn when he learns that a double murderer is being released from prison as part of a plea deal. There are clear connections between the two which sends the movie down a tense, violent, revenge-fueled path.
To reveal anything more about the story would be to strip it of one of its greatest assets – unpredictability. One of the best things about “Blue Ruin” is that you never know where things are heading. Dwight isn’t a tough guy by any stretch and most of his actions seem spontaneous and compulsive. And since we literally spend the entire movie with him, we’re always uncertain and constantly on edge. You never get a sense that Dwight has thought beyond the moment and the film never tips its hand to the audience. Therefore our journey is dictated by every action the capricious lead character makes.
Another of the film’s strengths is the unquenchable tension and suspense. Much of it is credited to the above mentioned air of uncertainty that permeates the entire story. It is also due to Saulnier’s great work with the camera. When watching the film there is no doubt that he is a filmmaker who knows the artistry behind good cinematography. His strategic handling of imagery, the use of northeastern landscapes, and the framing of numerous shots not only serves his visual style, but it amps up the suspense. Regardless of whether he is shooting a closeup of an expressive face or one of the film’s few sudden bursts of violence, the movie looks great.
Then there is the performance from Macon Blair, an actor with only a handful of credits to his name. I recently listened to a discussion about whether a better known and more experienced actor could have added to this character and movie. Personally I think that would have overthrown everything the film was going for. Blair’s tepid and reserved performance is an absolute perfect fit for what the character needs. The supporting cast is small but very good. Even Jan Brady herself, Eve Plumb makes an almost unrecognizable appearance.
“Blue Ruin” is a small-budget film that does more things on the screen to enthrall an audience than most blockbusters. Jeremy Saulnier is a revelation as both a filmmaker and storytelling, and Macon Blair has me interested in what he will do next. I love being taken for a ride and not knowing what lies ahead, especially in a movie centered around deep, moody suspense. “Blue Ruin” took me for that ride and I was completely invested until the very end.