Two childhood friends who share a love of cinema are the source of some gnarly movies that have been released in recent years. Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair saw the window closing on their lifelong dream of making a career in film closing, so they decided to make one last movie that would be a source of pride before moving on from their dreams. In 2013 they released their passion project titled Blue Ruin (with the help of a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter) at Cannes, and they haven’t stopped working on movies since.
Blue Ruin is one of the most original and thrilling movies I have seen. There wasn’t one moment, one image, one piece of dialogue, or one stunt that felt out of place or created a drop in quality. Through and through Blue Ruin is a pure independent marvel as it has the polish and appearance of a large studio movie.
I first watched Blue Ruin in the summer of 2015 based off the recommendation from Derek Acosta on his Mega64 podcast. I knew nothing about it going in other than it was an independent revenge flick that has received high praise. On paper this movie looks unremarkable, a homeless man seeks revenge on a man recently released from prison who murdered his mother and father forming the plot of a typical independent movie. Blue Ruin is far from typical.
It is a combination of two elements that make up interesting movies, high level directing and violence. Similar to Tarantino, Saulnier uses his storytelling and directing skills to make what feels like an arthouse movie but it also includes bloody violence and simple minded revenge.
I believe this movie is easy to find on the streaming sites but I watched the Blu-ray on my most recent viewing. I agree that the convenience and resource saving components of streaming is superior to watching Blu-ray’s, but one movie watching element has been lost in the recent streaming renaissance; special features. Most movies have minuscule special features like deleted scenes and movie trailers, but many have intriguing behind the scenes footage and commentaries. The Blue Ruin Blu-ray has a well-made and emotional making of documentary (and a beer drinking commentary with Saulnier and Blair) that I highly recommend that you find and watch after the movie. It will give you a new perspective on the film and how it came to be, forcing you to appreciate its existence even more.
Saulnier and Blair are now receiving steady work and are making a name for themselves in the movie industry, all of which stemmed from Blue Ruin.
It took me a few viewings to realize that the name of the movie is a reference to the old 1991 blue Pontiac Bonneville that Dwight lives in on the beach. The car is still functional but it has the scars of a rough life sporting bullet holes, rotted tires, and spreading rust. In addition to understanding the title, it wasn’t until my third viewing that I notice how much of a role the color blue plays in the movie. So many objects are blue including the blue bug zapper light, blue TV glow, blue dress shirt, blue handles on plyers, blue cap on gallon of water, blue tie on the cashier, blue photo album, and countless other objects.
Dwight lives a life of solitude in his car and roams the boardwalk in search of garbage food and breaks into homes to bathe. He rarely talks in the movie and when he does he is very quiet and succinct. Many scenes are just of him on screen going through about his day in silence. He has a calm nonviolent nature to his personality and actions which makes his plan to seek revenge on his parent’s killer surprising.
Dwight is not experienced in violence which is made clear when he sloppily murders his parent’s killer the day he is released from prison. Dwight gravely wounds his hand with a knife in his escape and immediately begins dealing with the ramifications of his murder. Real life isn’t like the movies, it’s messy and complicated, a theme that Blue Ruin focuses on.
Saulnier explains in the commentary that the “movie like” picture perfect scenes in Blue Ruin are interrupted strategically to remind the viewer this isn’t a typical movie, its real. An example of this is the scene when Dwight and his sister are having a heart to heart conversation in the restaurant. Right as the conversation reached its attention stealing peak, a man interrupts them asking if he can take their ketchup bottle. Another instance where this occurs is when Dwight is waiting at his sister’s for the inevitable counter attack from the Cleland’s he takes a moment to look at his old yearbook. Before he gets comfortable in a corny Hollywood scene reflecting on a time before the murders, he hears the unique sound of the Bonneville pull up next to the house.
Most revenge movies end with the main character receiving his or her revenge. In Blue Ruin that is where the movie begins, Dwight gets his revenge and the movie follows his life after the fact, creating a fresh and unique take on the genre.
Macon Blair was prefect for the role that Saulnier wrote for him. His eyes and demeanor reveal the demons he has been battling since his parents were killed. His sister, played by Amy Hargreaves, was my favorite character in the movie. Hargreaves was barely in the story but she was amazing in her performance. The complicated feelings of sympathy and anger she felt towards Dwight were portrayed in her emotional conversation with him at the restaurant. Right before she pulls out of her driveway with her daughters to go to Pittsburg to seek safety, she delivers one of the harshest lines of dialogue you will ever hear, “I’d forgive you if you were crazy, but you’re not. You’re weak.”
There are two shots that stand out to me from Blue Ruin, one in the first act and one in the final act. After being picked up by a police officer and brought into the station, the officer hands Dwight a copy of the newspaper and delivers some troubling news. The information relayed to Dwight is later confirmed when Dwight fires up the old Bonneville and drives away from the beach. He put the newspaper given to him in the front seat and the camera focuses for just a second on an article about a man being released from prison after serving time for a double homicide. Almost all of the story’s exposition was told in that one shot
The second memorable shot takes place during the standoff at the Cleland house. As Dwight pointed his gun at the Cleland family he gave the speech that his friend instructed him not to give. This gave the teenage boy William (inferred to be the love child from the affair between Dwight’s dad and the mother of the Cleland family) time to quietly get behind Dwight with a shot gun. As this happens a panning shot of a wall in the Cleland’s home reveals a timeline of Cleland family portraits and the camera stops on William holding the shotgun. That shot is incredible showing the history of the Cleland family which was about to be killed off.
There are many other memorable moments in Blue Ruin, but to avoid rambling and repeating things Saulnier describes in the commentary, I will end this post with one final short sentence.
Blue Ruin is great.