The Bride in “Kill Bill”, Paul Kersey in “Death Wish” and Carter in “Get Carter” are some of the famous cool, suave movie persona, who all became a vigilante, when they were meted with an injustice. They got the necessary accessories (weapons) and training to serve their revenge. But, imagine a guy, who is an unlikely candidate to become a vigilante. He is soft and always feels the sheer difficulty of killing someone, both the physical and moral toll of the violence. The action of such a guy is portrayed in Jeremy Salunier’s American raw-edged indie, “Blue Ruin” (2013). Saulnier, previous film was his directorial debut, “Murder Party” (2007) – a not-so-great gory horror/comedy. However, his follow-up movie has a gritty tone and what starts off as a slow-burn character study, morphs itself into a thriller with splattering moments of black comedy.
“Blue Ruin” starts by showing us the routine life of a homeless man, Dwight (Macon Blair). He breaks into empty houses for bath and sometimes steals the clothes. He picks up cans; scavenges the dumpsters for left-out foods; and sleeps inside a bullet-holes riddled Blue Pontiac. This bearded homeless guy with few mental health issues is awakened by a police officer, not because he is sleeping inside the car. The officer looks him sympathetically. They bring him into the station and give him a bad news: the killer of his parents is going to get released from jail. Now we can understand Dwight’s traumatized homeless life. A newspaper says that a double-murder conviction was overturned. It offers him a clue to hit the road with revenge in his mind.
He stops by a gun store, but backs away when he sees a camera. After a futile attempt to steal a gun, Dwight remains content with a knife to kill his parents’ killers. Luckily, he sees the killer, Wade Cleland in front of the jail house, welcomed by the family members. Dwight follows them to a dirty barroom. He hides in the bathroom, knife drawn out, and waits for Cleland. He kills him, making the floor bloody and drops his car key into the pool of blood. In a state of panic, he steals Cleland family car and after driving few distance, he sees a teenager at the car back seat. The teenager runs away before telling Dwight that Wade didn’t kill his parents.
Dwight and we are confused by this statement. The police aren’t tracking down Dwight and there is also no news about Wade’s death. He breaks into a house, shaves his dingy beard, steals some clothes and rallies himself to watch his sister (Amy Hargreaves), a mother of two. Now, the cleaned up Dwight, looks like an introverted guy, whose eyes reflect a wide-eyed terror. The absence of Wade’s death news makes him think that the Cleland family might be after him and his sister. He sends away his sister and her children, stays in her house as the phrase ‘violence begets violence’ turns literal. A clan of gun and arrow-toting rednecks are after him.
In one of the face off sequence, Dwight gets hit by a crossbow in the leg. He goes to a store, buying hacksaw and pliers. Sitting in his car, he does some self-surgery. However, Dwight is not John Rambo. So, he runs stumbles into a hospital and admits himself. Sequences like this (there are quite a lot) takes away the tag ‘predictable.’ Revenge thrillers usually follow a pattern, justifying the protagonist stance. But, in “Blue Ruin”, we are shocked by Dwight’s actions more than the 'rednecks’. Stoicism, determination and ruthlessness always help a hero, extracting revenge. But, here these elements run up against him, making each of his actions, unheroic. When Dwight meets his sister and tells about Wade’s killing. She is not very much impressed with his deed and only reproaches for his irresponsibility, by putting her family in danger. As she skips town, she says, “I’d forgive you, if you were crazy, but not – you’re weak.” Dwight meets a gun nut high-school friend (Devin Ratray), who is overjoyed to show his goodie bag of ammunition. But, even he makes it clear that his help shouldn't be mistaken for support ("This isn't right. This is ugly"). Jeremy Saulnier’s knack for bringing such scenes keeps the film real.
“Blue Ruin” was shot for $38,000, much of it came from Kick starter donations. The lead actor Macon Blair is Saulnier’s childhood friend and the important showdown is said to have filmed in Saulnier mother’s house. Despite these shortcomings, the movie’s production designer and cinematographer -- with his moody blue-green palette -- have worked wonders. If there is a flaw, we could point out the slow stretch before the climax. But, still Saulnier keeps us glued to the screen, not just because of what Dwight aims to do but because we can't quite believe that this untrained gun-carrier can actually get it done.
“Blue Ruin” (90 minutes) is morally ambiguous and makes us ask: ‘How the hell did Dwight get himself into this situation?’ Unburdened by the genre trappings, this film serves us one of the most mature meditations on vengeance and violence.