I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Blue Ruin

tn_blueruinI don’t know what this has to do with BLUE JASMINE, but it’s pretty good as a standalone.

I saw alot of film festival acclaim for BLUE RUIN as a movie about how bad and ugly revenge actually is. I gotta tell you I was skeptical, because I didn’t want to hear some joyless lecture about the wrongness of something most of us never experience, especially as punishment for our inherent enjoyment of classic action movie formula. DEATH SENTENCE and others prove you can make that point and still have fun.

Luckily my assumptions were unfounded. As the writer Harry once told Flavor Flav, “Don’t believe the hype.” BLUE RUIN isn’t trying to teach us a lesson, it’s actually a fairly traditional and enjoyable thriller about a murder and ensuing mess, spiraling out of control like that time the Cat in the Hat came over and ate cake in the bath tub. It’s just that it comes from young independent filmatists so it feels more like it’s happening to some dude you know than the usual slick Hollywood players. It’s quiet, naturalistic, and you have to piece together the backstory from what’s happening, you don’t get alot of obvious exposition. The avenger is a pretty non-descript nerd named Dwight (Macon Blair). Big, sunken eyes, a little doughy, bad haircut, no cool motorcycle jacket or shades or nothin. Just a normal guy. Could work at Best Buy or something.

Actually, when we first see him he’s a sloppy, shaggy-bearded homeless guy. We later find out he kinda snapped and disappeared after his parents were murdered. Now the convicted killer is getting out on a plea deal so he tries to find a weapon and track the guy down. And like the aforementioned Kevin Bacon gem that starts the ol’ unending cycle of revenge between the families.

At first it kinda plays like a weird HANGOVER sequel where that guy that carries the baby tries to get away with a murder. He talks like him and everything.

hangover-blueruin

When will this new age of shaggy beards ever end? Actually, come to think of it he kinda looks like Hercules, too. A skinnier, sadder Hercules.

hercules-blueruin

Luckily he later shaves.

Part of the appeal is Dwight’s lack of resources. He especially has trouble getting his hands on a gun to murder somebody with. At one point he manages to steal one from a pickup truck, but then he breaks it trying to break the lock off of it with a rock. Some things you just need tools for.

He takes some battle damage and he can’t go to the cops, so he attempts one of the most gruesome and least macho self-surgeries I’ve seen in a while. He’s no Rambo. But he does get pretty clever for a regular dude who never had to do this stuff before. He gets some practice at stalking, abducting, breaking and entering, ambushing, etc. Instead of all out action you spend alot of time alone with him, sneaking into a house, for example, and waiting with a gun in his hand, not sure when or if this guy’s ever gonna come through the door. Lots of tension and suspense.

mp_blueruinOne of the best parts in the movie is when Dwight goes to visit his sister (Amy Hargreaves, BRAINSCAN). She obviously has the same pain that he has from the loss of their parents, but she has chosen to go on with her life, she has kids and lives in the suburbs. It’s this jarring change from the seedy opening and clumsy restroom murder to the real world. He’s been gone so long he has trouble remembering how to talk to people, and there’s a sense that he may have been a coward to run away the way he did, and definitely hurt his loves ones who didn’t know what happened to him. His need to confess what he did and the way she reacts are very powerful.

Blair’s Regular Guyness does make some parts of the movie ring false though. I can believe this dude got in over his head, but I have a harder time believing that he has an old rock ‘n roll and strip club buddy back home (Devin Ratray, from HOME ALONE I guess) who has an arsenal of guns and ammo, is willing to kill for him because of their childhood together, and gives brooding speeches about what it’s like to kill a man. Usually in a not-trying-to-be-realistic action movie it’s the old friend from the hood who is now a gangster or arms dealer (see MONEY TALKS), but this is the white version of that.

Also, the family he’s dealing with are basically like a crime syndicate who all go after him and try to kill him, not that much more down-to-earth than the gang in DEATH SENTENCE. And can we really believe that this regular dude’s dad fell in love with the matriarch of this family of last house on the lefters? Possible, but unlikely. It seems like this is supposed to be more realistic than the average revenge story, but it can’t resist dipping into a bunch of Movie Shit.

In a case of pretty good stunt casting that I didn’t pick up on, one of the family members is played by Eve Plumb. I didn’t realize it was Jan Brady I was looking at, but she has the right look for this role, glaring at him with tired, hateful eyes. (and to be fair it’s not really stunt casting because I read that the director didn’t realize she was Jan either. But having a Brady in the family of killers is a nice touch.)

Despite my minor misgivings it’s a worthwhile ride that does a good job of piling up more and more complications. It already seems at the beginning like there’s no clean way out of this, he’s gotta at best go to prison for murder. But it manages to keep getting worse for him without matters of legality even coming up. It’s just a mess.

I must be Goldilocks though because I was worried it would be too grim and then I actually thought the occasional jokes were the movie’s biggest weakness. They’re very dry, just little awkward moments of him not knowing what to say while on a revenge killing spree. They’re fine, but I think making light of the situation kind of makes it feel more like a midnight movie for laughs and less like the ugly punch in the balls that I think they’re going for. But that’s not a crime or anything. No need to avenge it.

Maybe my problem is I had no idea that the director, Jeremy Saulnier, is the guy that did MURDER PARTY. I guess I didn’t review that, but it’s a clever and very creative low budget horror comedy. I liked that movie but I gave up waiting for him to do another one and never made the connection this was him. I think if I had known then I would’ve been a little more ready for the tone.

anyway, didn’t see HANGOVER III but this was definitely better than II.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 at 3:55 pm and is filed under Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “Blue Ruin”

  1. I’ve read a lot of quick blurbs about this movie, but yours is the first review I actually stopped to read. I’ll give a try when it becomes available on DVD, this and that other arthouse thriller that came out around the same time that I also missed, THE ROVER.

  2. I liked this one too. I didn’t love it like a lot of critics seemed to, but it did a good job of making revenge seem like a real shitty idea, something that few films manage to pull off. I kind of wish the antagonists were more regular folks and not revenge-crazed gun/crossbow-toting rednecks, but then it would have been a pretty short film I guess. The scene with the metal-head friend didn’t ring my bullshit bell as much, but as an outsider I assume America is full of crazed gun nuts just itching for an opportunity like that.

    It took me a while to realize what that lock on the revolver was. I’ve never seen that before.

  3. If Murder Party was this guy’s Reservoir Dogs, then Blue Ruin is his Pulp Filction — a grown-up masterpiece with a slightly larger budget. Can’t wait for Saulnier’s Jacky Brown!

    The best movie of 2014 (or 2013 since they kinda botched the release… I think). No question about it — it’s up there with Fargo and Season One of Breaking Bad in its portrayal of absurdity of low-level crime. Too bad only like 500 people watched it, judging by the IMDB reviews.

    Then again, Murder Party was the best movie of 2006 (or whatever), and nobody saw that either.

  4. The Original Paul

    July 31st, 2014 at 2:21 am

    If this one comes anywhere near me, I’m checking it out. Thanks for the recommendations guys.

    In other news, I just got my first ever Internet death threat (for daring to criticise “Boyhood”). Should I throw a party or something?

  5. You’ve made it Paul…you finally made it.

    I believe the standing etiquette is to challenge your opponent to a live streaming cage fight.

  6. The Original Paul

    July 31st, 2014 at 5:19 am

    Well, if it’s good enough for Uwe Boll…

  7. I wanted to see this one because the bar I hang out at in Hell’s Kitchen is named Blue Ruin. (40th and 9th, check it out) I wanted to get a barfly field trip going but I guess life is like revenge, you really have to plan ahead. I had no idea it was from the director of MURDER PARTY. That just makes me want to see it more.

    “Blue Ruin” is an old British term for “alcoholic” that dates back to when gin became the first hard liquor to be introduced to England. It describes the purplish color of a drunk’s nose caused by burst capillaries. Not sure what that has to do with this movie but I’m eager to find out.

  8. Gin is often referred to as “mother’s ruin” here in England. Maybe that’ll be the sequel!

    Anyway, I loved this film. It had such a great mood, the cinematography was excellent and I really enjoy movies where the backstory is teased out so subtly that it could almost be missed. Great suspense, wonderful acting and distinctive style. Can’t wait for the nest Saulnier effort.

  9. Yeah, the term eventually evolved from its original usage to describe drinkers of gin to describe gin itself. I believe it was used in America during Prohibition to indicate bathtub gin of dubious quality, which has made the term a popular dive bar name here.

  10. Gin was the crack of 18th century England.

  11. I liked this one too, saw it blind with no real expectations and was pleasantly surprised. There are a few weak moments in the script and acting but overall its great – some of the directing is superb, especially the silent sequences early in the film. I could happily watch a Wall-E-fied cut with just the silent protagonist wandering around living for the first half of the film. The main character was so interesting, I can’t think of any other film heroes quite like him: terrified, brave, resourceful and inept in equal amounts. I hope I’d be like him in a similar situation – I definitely have the same look of terror when I get in trouble – but I suspect I’d just be terrified and inept. Look forward to the director and stars next films, lots of talent on display!

  12. I’ve wanted to see a “regular guy” revenge movie -where the protagonist was just kind of bad at it – for a long time. Really looking forward to seeing this.

  13. They are using the other definition of Blue Ruin — meaning “complete and utter ruin, desolation.” I don’t think there are any gin references in the film…

    https://www.wordnik.com/words/blue%20ruin

    Love this one, it’s my second favorite of the year to date. Amazing imagery on such a tiny budget.

  14. I believe the “Blue Ruin” refers to his car.

  15. I gotta say I’m surprised that the friend bothered you. He didn’t seem that over the top, he’s just a redneck with a trailer and a couple acres who spends all his disposable income on guns. I mean shit those are pretty thick on the ground.

  16. I just mean that the friend talks like a movie character, the implication that he has killed before and tells him that he’s willing to die for him and shit. You could take it that he’s seen too many movies but I thought it was a little too much. Not a dealbreaker or anything.

  17. I really liked this one. I dug that it was a standard revenge story interrupted by all manner of real life inconveniences: losing your keys, cutting your hand at the least opportune time, not having enough money, being a terrible shot. You know, the annoying crap that makes up most of our daily lives but somehow gets left out of 99% of movies.

    Vern, you and I have different readings of a few elements. 1. I bought the friend character. There are gun nuts out there jut waiting around for someone to need their arsenals to do some violence, and his line about killing people I took to mean he had gone to war. In the yearbook, he was dressed up for the JROTC, which I took to be shorthand for “military experience.” So while the existence of that character was a contrivance, it still made sense in a real world context, at least to me. And 2. I never got the sense that the rival family were some Last Housers, or even a criminal clan. They were just a bunch of violent assholes with too many guns. Did I miss a line about their criminal enterprises? I thought they just ran a limo business. In any case, I bought them, too. They were macho assholes who’d been raised by an even bigger macho asshole, but they weren’t making human skin lampshades or anything.

    That’s the tragedy of it all. Nobody deserved to die over any of this shit. No justice was served at any point, yet the movie wasn’t a dreary finger-pointing slog because all those little inconveniences slowly, subtly transformed the story from a dark drama into a black comedy of errors.

  18. Yeah, the veteran gun enthusiast guy is my favorite character. He rang completely true to me. He’s tactically proficient and thinks 3 steps ahead in every shitty scenario his old friend visits upon him. He’s been well-trained, technically & mentally.

    I also found the sliced hand bit interesting because as an English degree snob with an infinite need to detect symbolism & synecdoche in art I thought it was a perfect thing to have happen for several character & thematic reasons. You’ve got the obvious “blood on your hands” imagery. You’ve got a guy showing that he’s not great with weapons, but he is clever in terms of converting a weapon into a more useful non-violent tool. You’ve got a guy sabotaging the very escape vehicle that he’s desperately gonna need in a few seconds, which kind of sums up the whole plot of the film and these feuding families’ lives. You’ve got a guy badly hurting himself in the process of hurting his enemy, which, again…

    And I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to stab a tire. It’s not easy.

    Pretty great movie, though I wish it didn’t have those moments of graphic violence. I’m a hypocrite and a pussy, apparently, because I had to turn away from the screen a couple times, and this somehow slightly cheapened the gripping suspense of all the excellent chase-stalk-run-for-your-life sequences.

  19. Why is it that every time a character in a film has a beard Vern’s gotta complain about “kids today” or compare him to some other completely different actor just cause they both have beards. Like that this schlubby, Droopy-Dog looking dude looks anything like the Rock just because he has a (completely different) beard. What is it, do all people with beards look alike to you? Vern’s a pogonophobe. There, I said it.

  20. Saw GREEN ROOM whenever it first came to Redbox, but I as late to the party on this one. Finally saw it, and it’s fantastic. Taut, exhilarating, violent, poignant. A beautiful film in a lot of ways, and Macon Blair’s performance is as good as any I’ve seen. The film really does not let up.

  21. Saw GREEN ROOM whenever it first came to Redbox, but I as late to the party on this one. Finally saw it, and it’s fantastic. Taut, exhilarating, violent, poignant. A beautiful film in a lot of ways, and Macon Blair’s performance is as good as any I’ve seen. The film really does not let up.

  22. I dunno Skani… I really liked it when I saw it in theaters but now watching the movie I think there issues with both sides of the conflict. I think you should give it a second viewing and try to see where Patrick Stewart and his boys are coming from.*

    *Was it really just last year we were so unanimous in the ‘Nazis are bad’ opinion that indie filmmakers could make this movie and not waste the audience’s time by setting up the the villains?

  23. Was happy to see Blair pop up in LOGAN LUCKY last night. And I liked his directorial debut I DONT FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE which was on Netflix a month ago. More black comedy than his work with Saulnier, which is just black.

  24. Geoffrey, Skani is taking about Blue Ruin and not Green Room.

  25. You’re right Stern. Seems I misread Skanni’s post. Still we can all agree my post was hilarious and delightful and added to the conversation.

  26. You’re a good person Skani!

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