Review by Daniel Rester
Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter really deserve credit when they help launch things like Blue Ruin. Ruin, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier’s second feature film, might not have even been made if it wasn’t for the backers. Thankfully the project did get off its feet, and it provides a strong case for how such sites can help original voices in filmmaking.
Ruin focuses on Dwight (Macon Blair), a beach bum who hasn’t seen his family in years. He picks up word that a criminal he knows is being released from prison soon, so his life flips upside down as he seeks out vengeance for what the man did to his family. This leads him down an unexpected path that involves his sister, a childhood friend, and the criminal’s family.
Saulnier’s film provides a smart and gripping revenge story from start to finish. We’ve seen such revenge elements as these a million times over, but Saulnier takes them in different and exciting directions. His depiction of violence delivers thrills, but the director also lingers on the quiet moments of reflection that help bring out the characters. The violence surrounding the characters is also always realistic, being frequently grim and tense. Such an approach reminds one of some of the Coen Brothers’ work, though Saulnier’s film doesn’t contain as much of the oddball characters or wackiness as their films; it is perhaps closest in tone to No Country for Old Men (2007).
Ruin has its intelligent turns with its story and characters, but Saulnier also knows how to make it all visually arresting. The director actually shot the film himself. Film lovers will notice the meticulousness and passion behind nearly every frame, with Saulnier and Editor Julia Bloch crafting a particular world for Dwight. The locations and actions they show always pop in one way or another (with clarity and excellent usage of dark colors), but such things also never push aside the story; this is a great sign of a promising filmmaker.
Blair makes for a terrific lead. The actor has a look of sorrow and uncertainty in his eyes that rings true all the way, with Dwight stepping on territory he isn’t used to. The character constantly faces situations that are twisty and unusual for the common person, and Blair expertly depicts what a person might do in such moments. Also great is Devin Ratray as Ben, an old friend of Dwight’s. He brings humor and honesty to his small but important role.
Saulnier’s film sounds simple on the surface, but the filmmaker brings freshness to the material that shines. The focus on such aspects as the subtlety in character, the effects of violence on a realistic level, and the motion and clearness of the images make it hit you in the gut. I hope Kickstarter is able to fund more projects like Ruin, as this is a terrific revenge film.
Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).
MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and language).
Runtime: 1 hour and 30 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: April 25th, 2014 (limited).