Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Blue Ruin

BLUE RUIN (Jeremy Saulnier, 2013)

In Francois Truffaut’s book of interviews with Alfred Hitchcock, the masterful suspense director says, in reference to a murder in TORN CURTAIN, “In every picture somebody gets killed and it goes very quickly. They are stabbed or shot, and the killer never even stops to look and see whether the victim is really dead or not. And I thought it was time to show that it was very difficult, very painful, and it takes a very long time to kill a man.” BLUE RUIN takes the messy and arduous nature of murder and studies it over the course of a film than just one scene.

Scraggly-bearded Dwight (Macon Blair) is living out of his rusty Pontiac Bonneville on a Delaware beach when a police officer brings him into the station. He’s not in trouble. Rather, she wants him to know that Wade Cleland, the man who was convicted of murdering his parents in 1993, is being released. Dwight buys a map of Virginia with the intent of tracking down and killing him.

Although he succeeds in stabbing Wade to death, Dwight waits for news coverage of it but doesn’t come across any. Having fulfilled his mission and cleaned up his ragged appearance, Dwight visits his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) to let her know what he’s done. At this point he realizes that he left behind evidence that could allow Wade’s kin to come looking for him, her, and her two daughters. The absence of media reports indicates that the Clelands mean to handle the matter themselves.

Dwight is not an experienced killer, nor is he someone who seems to want to take lives except in accordance with Old Testament code. Director, writer, and cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier uses the protagonist’s predicament as a rumination on the corrosive effects of seeking revenge. The deaths Dwight is directly and indirectly responsible for complicate his life instead of relieving him of the rage and sorrow he’s carried for two decades. With his hangdog eyes and slight frame, Blair doesn’t look like the stone-cold assassin Dwight convinces himself to be. Whether he’s successful or not in killing those who have wronged him, Dwight’s withdrawn behavior and defeated posture reflect a man who lets his response to his parents’ murders claim a victim in a quieter, less recognizable way.

Although BLUE RUIN is a somber picture, Saulnier gooses it with dark humor. As Dwight barricades himself in the house and sets up various traps, he resembles an older, more malicious Macaulay Culkin in HOME ALONE. Dwight’s inexperience with weapons, lack of thoroughness, and accumulating problems are also mined for laughs. Saulnier finds room for other mood-lighteners in the sound design, whether it’s Dwight having to distinguish between a ring being a telephone or a bird and dealing with feedback when trying to leave an answering machine message. For all of its grimness, BLUE RUIN never fails to spot the absurd.

Grade: B-

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