Blue Ruin

Posted by Joel Copling on April 28, 2014

As director and screenwriter of "Blue Ruin," Jeremy Saulnier owes a lot to Ethan and Joel Coen, specifically to the down-home frailty of 2007's remarkable crime thriller "No Country for Old Men," but for a tightly-conceived ninety minutes, one forgets the homage and focuses entirely upon the performance of its main actor. Macon Blair, a relative unknown whose most visible role, to date, has perhaps been a guest-starring role on TV's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," plays Dwight Evans, who on first glance seems to be quite unstable, perhaps severely distressed. He looks like a homeless man. He sleeps in his car, which helps that image. Behind the eyes is an emptiness that nothing but great trauma could cause.

We slowly begin to realize what, exactly, happened to this man when a police officer (Sidne Anderson) tells him that Carl "Wade" Cleland (Brent Werzner) is getting out of prison. Wade was convicted for the murder of Dwight's parents. This is when Saulnier pulls the rug out from under his completely blindsided audience: Dwight exacts his revenge upon Wade so early into the film that it's almost jarring. It's a bloody, brutal death scene, too--played out entirely in the rundown bathroom of a nightclub and with a pretty small knife for this type of job. We sympathize with this shell of a man known as Dwight Evans, though, and it's captured by the half-elated, half-terrified response his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves, making a pretty considerably impact in two scenes) has when he tells her what he did.

Our sympathy remains even as Dwight acts out a revenge plot on Carl's family, beginning with brother Teddy (Kevin Kolack), whom he keeps locked in the truck of his rundown car following a shootout (that includes, in a morbidly fun detail, a crossbow, so, yes, there is an arrow-removal scene as brutal as you'd think) and until he can acquire a gun (Devin Ratray appears as an old pal from high school who has his share of demons and seems a tad detached from reality but, nevertheless, supplies Dwight with the weapons necessary to finish what he started). The outcome of this encounter is as shockingly, bluntly brutal as the rest of Dwight's plan, which seems to evolve out of necessity and, perhaps, convenience.

And indeed there are convenient elements to Saulnier's script (A bit involving a curiously vacated house and a voicemail machine comes to mind), which is meaty but straightforward, stronger for concocting Dwight's next plan of attack (in the literal sense) than for building character (a lot of whom seem to be defined by their place of habitation, and all of whom are ultimately either cog or victim within Dwight's worldview), but this is a weakness that barely registers in the face of Blair, who attacks his character's casual sense of immorality with jittery delicacy. We whole-heartedly back him up in actions while acknowledging that, for those who can't turn back, justice is a circular process.

Film Information

Macon Blair (Dwight Evans), Devin Ratray (Ben Gaffney), Amy Hargreaves (Sam), Kevin Kolack (Teddy Cleland), Eve Plumb (Kris Cleland), David W. Thompson (William), Brent Werzner (Carl Cleland), Stacy Rock (Hope Cleland), Sidne Anderson (Officer Eddy).

Directed and written by Jeremy Saulnier.

Rated R (bloody violence, language).

90 minutes.

Released in select cities on April 25, 2014.