Film Review – Blue Ruin
Actions have consequences. It’s hyperbole that follows the traits of tales of revenge. Action is what sets the revenge in motion, which in turn has its own set of consequences. If movies progress like ideas and tales of revenge began as yarns spun for entertainment then Blue Ruin is the natural progression of revenge movies. Taking a through line from the early days of exploitation films and traveling through action movies and thrillers, it arrives at a philosophical examination of the tropes that persist throughout those movies. One part seeks to entertain, while another wants to question why that’s entertaining.
If that seems contradictory that’s because it partially is. And it’s that contradiction that will more than likely divide opinions on whether or not the movie works. Scraggly haired and living out of what appears to be a broken down car, Dwight (Macon Blair) roams into houses to take showers, and scrambles back to his car. This appears to be Dwight’s whole existence. Until a local police officer takes Dwight into custody and informs him a murderer is about to be released. With this knowledge Dwight shifts gears and slips back into a life seemingly abandoned. With revenge as intent, Dwight sets out to bring the released killer to Dwight’s own sense of justice.
We learn quickly that Dwight is no killer of experience. What we’re then presented with is the every-person scenario of ‘what if’. A contrasting examination of someone with no previous concept of actual murder and a determination that won’t quit until that murder is committed. Things don’t go as clean and efficient as a standard action revenge movie would. That inexperience and brutality lead to a series of events that have Dwight suddenly seeking to protect a family that he left behind back when tragedy first struck.
Each moment of significance in Dwight’s quest seeks to examine the reality of the tropes that typically exist in a revenge film. Dwight attempts to heal himself after a shootout, only to abandon his attempt in the face of the reality of such a task. After being handed a modified 9mm handgun, a moment in most action films that’s usually reserved for fetishizing weaponry, Dwight turns the gun away, “Nothing modified or special”, which leads to him choosing a rifle instead. The friend who normally assists the protagonist in their quest for revenge also seeks to inform the authorities to stop Dwight’s mission after assisting him. Shootouts are clumsy and after a bullet tears a person’s face off a comment is made, “that’s what bullets do”.
These instances seem designed to make a comment on how tropes have been fantasized over countless action, thriller films centered on revenge. The problem comes in the contradiction of then using the fantasized expectations of these tropes as both entertainment and condemnation. When we see a bullet gloriously tear guys face off, it’s surprising and it repulses, and that is the intent. The moment seeks to question why seeing a person’s face ripped apart is entertaining, while simultaneously showing us that violence in all its glory. This theme carries over in the choices that Dwight makes, as he haphazardly seeks to exact murder after methodically putting his seemingly disabled car back together and heading out on his quest for a white whale.
It’s through Dwight’s Ahab like quest for reprisal that unfortunately one of the biggest tropes of revenge movies is overlooked and employed as a typical plot point. The neglect of one’s family in the search for completing the quest, whether it be estrangement through the distraction of the quest or it be an issue of vulnerability of one’s family and loved ones at the hands of those who revenge is being sought upon. It’s a tactic that’s been employed over countless films and again it’s employed here to predictable effect. It’s a fine line to walk from entertainment and critique of entertainment in the same package, and it’s certainly not an easy one to pull off.
A smart direction and construction of scenes certainly creates an appropriate mood, and the pacing delivers the emotional impact at exactly the right moments. It’s competent filmmaking that gets a bit distracted by its own desire to have something important to say. Macon Blair gives a particularly striking performance that hinges between mentally disturbed and calmly calculating, and most of the movie’s strengths lie in focusing on Dwight while pushing supporting characters to a periphery that resembles Dwight’s deteriorating point of view. While maybe not as focused and on point as it should be for what it sets out to do, it’s at least a refreshing throwback to simpler, more single-minded independent thrillers.
Final Grade: B