“Blue Ruin” is a taut and deliberate revenge thriller suggesting that just because you may have the urge and the drive to exact revenge on someone, it doesn’t mean it’s as easy as picking up a gun and popping a cap in the bastard’s head. In most revenge movies, the protagonists make it look easy and most of the time they have at least some past experience with guns or weapons or fighting. In “Blue Ruin,” the act of revenge feels more like a chore and the protagonist has basically no idea what he’s doing when it comes to using guns and even knives.
Director Jeremy Saulnier throws us right into action without any real setup. Dwight (Macon Blair) has been wandering aimlessly for the past couple years, living out of his old rusted blue car in a beachfront town. Rummaging through trashcans and using other people’s bathrooms to clean himself. Already we can infer that this is the aftermath. Some terrible tragedy has caused Dwight to go off into isolation and live as a vagrant. A little later we find out that a man named Wade Cleveland killed Dwight’s parents and he’s being released from prison.
Saulnier doesn’t employ any flashbacks because he doesn’t need to. Any information we aren’t explicitly told we can assume. Plus we’ve seen enough revenge thrillers to know what that initial act of violence looks like. Instead the film stays in the here and now, and focuses on Dwight’s personal struggle. We don’t get much background on him but we can surmise that this tragedy had a major impact on his psyche, causing him to distance himself from his remaining family and in some ways, society. He’s been dishonored and rendered incomplete and the only thing that can make him whole again is vengeance.
So he tracks Wade down at their family bar and does the deed. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Drew, you just delivered a massive spoiler” and usually you would be right. Most of the time this is the moment that revenge thrillers build to. The crusader confronting the villain face-to-face, one on one, and doing what’s right. But in “Blue Ruin” things are just getting started. This happens within the first twenty minutes or so and while Dwight may have killed Wade he’s incurred the wrath of Wade’s crazy, gun obsessed family and now they’re coming after Dwight and Dwight’s remaining estranged family; his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her two kids.
At ninety minutes, “Blue Ruin” is admittedly brisk but Saulnier keeps the pace unhurried, keeping the viewer on edge and letting them soak in every little situation. The movie is also relativity quiet, there’s not a lot of dialogue and the haunting score by Brooke Will Blair hums faintly in the background, occasionally flaring up at intense moments. There are some gnarly scenes of violence—a sniper rifle shot to someone’s head, for example, or the moment when Dwight attempts to pull an arrow out of his leg—but Saulnier doesn’t overdo it, keeping the picture realistic in feeling.
As I’ve already alluded to, Dwight is a man of few words—at one point when he runs into Sam after years and years he mentions how he usually “doesn’t talk this much—and is passive in demeanor. He doesn’t look like he could kill anyone. In that way he’s reminiscent of Ryan Gosling’s quiet and peaceful character in “Drive,” but unlike Gosling’s character who, when provoked, could turn into a vicious killer, Dwight remains timid and inexperienced when he tries to exact revenge. Going back to what I said in the first paragraph, most revenge thriller vigilantes have some kind of prior experience with fighting, they may have even been criminals themselves, but Dwight appears to have none.
He struggles to kill Wade at the beginning and when he has one of the other family members at gunpoint he temporarily loses the upper hand. He has the drive and motivation to avenge his parents’ honor but he doesn’t have the know-how and most of the time he comes off as pathetic. His own sister says he’s weak at one point. And even though he gets some gun training from an old friend he still looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. However, it’s this that makes the character and the movie so interesting. Dwight’s need for revenge is a sickness, a curse, and he can’t live with himself unless he can satisfy it. So it doesn’t matter how silly he may look doing it and it doesn’t matter how crazy the rest of Wade’s family is.
Overall, “Blue Ruin” does an effective job of showing what it might be like if an average, timid man took the law into his own hands. And like all successful revenge thrillers there’s a feeling of satisfaction at the end. Honor has been restored.