Article By: Dan Clark
Jeremy Saulnier may be in the early days of his directing career, but his second directorial effort Blue Ruin shows he has an old cinematic soul. It tells the age old story of the price of vengeance in a reserved and darkly twisted manner with just the right amount of absurdity. Saulnier has a command for the material as he takes a common tale and brings an interesting new approach. Saulnier’s style is reminiscent of some of cinema’s biggest heavyweights including The Coen Brothers and Tarantino, and while it is hyperbolic to claim he is at that level—he at least is starting in the right direction.
In the film Macon Blair plays Dwight, a lonely disheveled homeless person who spends his days scavenging for food and nights sleeping near the beach in a broken down car. At first the film appears to be another example of an Indie film where not much is said and not much happens, instead relaying on showing the minute details of how a homeless man survives. Quickly that changes when Dwight is picked up by a concerned police officer and brought into the police station. He is informed a man from his past is being released from prison, which leaves Dwight in a state of utter shock.
Saulnier, who wrote, directed, and shot the film, was meticulous in the way he delved out story bits. At first we are unaware of the connection Dwight has with this soon to be ex-con. This adds a great deal of mystery and allows Macon Blair to tell us everything we need to know simply through his reaction. Blair was an absolute natural with this part. Some may mistake his awkward demeanor and hesitant dialog s Blair being unable to find comfort with the role. In reality Blair is showcasing a damaged man with foolish tendencies. His own sisters states, “I’d forgive you if you were crazy, but you are not crazy, you’re weak”. It is that weakness that leads him act first and think second. Similar to classic characters in films like Blood Simple or Fargo he dives head first into a world he is not ready for, and quickly finds himself over his head.
Slowly but surely we learn more about Dwight’s past history and the life he left. After hearing the news he fixes the car he was living in and takes off to enact revenge. Here Saulnier continues his attention to detail by depicting moments most films would gloss over. Dwight attempting to find a gun turns into an opportunity for levity and to show his knack for bad luck. In addition behind this comedy is this sense of menace that surges throughout the film.
Narratively the story goes in unique directions, and to speak to it in detail would only ruin the experience. Suffice to say you receive information in creative bits and pieces. What can be stated is how it continuously adjusts the crux of the main conflict. Dwight’s biggest foil tends to be himself, which is demonstrated beautifully in his bathroom escape from his first attempt at vengeance. He is bubbling, clumsy, and lacks foresight. The way in which Dwight interacts with people says a lot about who he is and the life he has lead.
Saulnier uses this character as a vice to play with the common tropes of the vengeance genre. Brutality is one area Sauliner particular focuses on, in ways that are both graphic and oddly comedic. Dwight attempting to remove an arrow from his leg with a pair of tweezers is hard to witness, but ends with a humorous punch. This juxtaposition keeps you on your toes, and is the biggest common denominator Saulnier shares with his obvious cinematic idols.
Previously Saulnier worked primarily as a cinematographer and that is evident with his ease with the camera. He has an admirable patience with the way he lets scenes play out. By doing this he finds tension in areas others would ignore. Often we are left alone with Dwight as he sits awaiting a potential onslaught of retribution. Quietly the anticipation builds. When it does break the action is never over the top or outlandish. It is understated, clumsy, and true to the film. Keeping the level of authenticity the film works so hard to maintain.
Blue Ruin does not redefine the way vengeance is conceived in film. There are no delusions of grandeur here. Jeremy Saulnier is steadfast on creating a film that stays within a genre, but is not beholden to it. In only his second film Saulnier shows he has a creative mind and a seasoned directorial prowess. Blue Ruin may only be the first big step in a long illustrious career.