Blue Ruin (2013) is a simply-told story of murder, revenge and deadly secrets. It’s shot beautifully by Jeremy Saulnier who also wrote and directed the film and Macon Blair, the star of the film, does a great job as the nervous, unsure, totally naive “hero” of the story–a homeless man who enacts his own version of justice when some bad news blows his way. What happens from there is a chain of events that are totally logical in its extension from the action of the opening scenes. Everything that unfolds seems realistic or at least plausible and the total result of the film is completely thrilling. Blue Ruin is a gem of a movie and should be seen by anyone interested in seeing a taut thriller.
While watching it, a certain plot development reminded me very much of something that had happened in No Country for Old Men and I became concerned that I was watching a (albeit well-done) knockoff, but the movie skillfully subverts the viewers expectations and takes the action elsewhere. Blue Ruin may seem at times a little too anxious to capture the spirit or the wit of a Coen Brothers feature, but stands strongly on its own ambitions. Saulnier wears his influences on his sleeve but never relies wholly on homage. So while the laconic thrills seem a bit like the most tense moments of Blood Simple or the family drama like something out of Jeff Nichols’ Shotgun Stories, the story here is always confident and keeps you wrapped up from beginning to end.
The editing, by Julia Bloch, is elegant in its simplicity. When telling a story about events that happened years ago, you have to decide how to tell it: Do you want the viewer to be dropped into the middle of it and kind of figure things out as they go along or do you employ an editing scheme with flashbacks to points of interest? It would be interesting to compare Blue Ruin to something like The Limey, but of which feature incredible editing, but are completely opposite to each other. Blue Ruin is completely linear in how it tells its story, but is skilled and confident in how it does it and The Limey jumps all over the place, sometimes even having flashbacks within flashbacks. These are two movies that tell stories of revenge and justice and have a sense of fun with what happens, but told completely differently, but just as effectively, I think.
I’m very excited to see what’s next from both Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair. This was a good debut, having just a few of the usual issues you get from a freshman filmmaker (maybe a little too show-offy, but that’s half the fun in seeing a new director). Blue Ruin is like the anti-Bellflower. Instead of showcasing a DIY filmmaker’s darkest and most negative obsessions, and leaving a horrible taste in the audience’s mouth, it shows instead a pure love for the cinema. I hope that Saulnier makes a few more features with a budget just as limited, because it might work to his advantage to have to put his imagination into overdrive.