A quiet little sensation from American indie filmland, Blue Ruin is a vastly superior, and more interesting, work than its origin in the over-saturated market for American low-budget filmmaking and its eventful production may suggest. Made entirely independently on the savings of its principal cast and crew, with additional completion monies coming from 450 backers through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, this do-or-die effort from talented director Jeremy Saulnier is a smart, slow-burn grower of a film. It lies squarely halfway between the non-nonsense efficiency of old-fashioned, B-quota genre movie experts such as Don Siegel, and the attentive, observational character studies of the current crop of American ruralists such as Kelly Reichardt or Jeff Nichols.
At its heart, actually, Blue Ruin lies much closer to something like Mr. Nichols' Shotgun Stories than to the Coen brothers, to whose Blood Simple it has been often compared - though it is a tale of bumbling, almost unwitting crime, it is also the tale of a desperate attempt to escape the blood ties that seem to define everything you are and do in the American South. It's a tale of revenge, of a man whose life was put literally on hold after a family tragedy, and who is shocked out of his "suspended animation" when a convicted killer is released early. But Mr. Saulnier's approach is pretty unusual for a genre movie: its premise is in fact only the first act of a narrative that constantly twists back and forth and grows exponentially in depth and resonance as it moves on: Dwight Evans' (Macon Blair) thirst for revenge on the man that killed his parents is hardly fully thought through, a decision that reawakens a seemingly dormant cycle of retribution whose extent will not be fully understood until very near the film's end.
If Dwight's plan is hardly bulletproof, Mr. Saulnier's handling and pacing are - the violence and momentum of Blue Ruin are constantly offset by the seeming ordinariness of its hero, winningly played by Mr. Blair as a slightly dim everyman whose shattered world can never be put back together to his heart's content. The rural and small-town Virginia setting of the tale heightens this sense of people locked in bubbles of their own making, a blood feud that occasionally reminds of old-fashioned westerns, but that the director (also scripting and lensing) edges closer to an almost existential tragedy by making the most of his locations and reducing dialogue to the barest essentials. It's that rarest of objects that works both as an exciting genre piece and as a thoughtful character study, in no small part thanks to the way Mr. Saulnier fits everything he wants to say into a neatly compressed 90 minutes.
USA, France 2013
Cast Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, David W. Thompson
Director, screenwriter and cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier (colour, widescreen); composers Brooke Blair and Will Blair; designer Kaet McAnneny; costumes Brooke Bennett; editor Julia Bloch; producers Anish Savjani, Richard Peete and Vincent Savino, Filmscience, Neighborhood Watch Films and The Lab of Madness in association with Paradise City
Screened May 15th 2014 (screener DVD, Lisbon)