The revenge story has been a staple of human entertainment since there has been human entertainment (Samson, anyone?), and while there can be considerable vicarious enjoyment in a well done straight-up revenge, the variety of riffs on the motif can be equally or more compelling (like, say, Hamlet or Death Sentence) whether they subvert the theme through questioning the morality of the premise (as in Hamlet) or through carrying it to an extreme (as in Death Sentence).
Blue Ruin is a revenge picture that’s almost a mix of Hamlet and Death Sentence. Intimate and disturbing, it features a “least likely protagonist”, like Hamlet, who ends up having to go to extremes, like Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon’s character in Death Sentence).
Dwight (Macon Blair), our protagonist, is homeless, living in his car on the beach somewhere on the east coast. He stays out of trouble, though he’s not above a little B&E to use someone’s shower, and the police know him. But when the Sheriff (Sidné Anderson) does come to visit him it’s not to bust him, but to give him some news.
It turns out the thug who killed his father is being released from jail. And Dwight, whose itinerant lifestyle seems to stem from this trauma, takes it on himself to kill his father’s murderer.
And that’s our opening. I won’t give any further details because they all contribute to the experience of the film, which is both complex and deep. Suffice to say that Dwight hasn’t really thought his revenge through and isn’t really cut out for the whole killing thing.
All that would be enough to challenge the formula, but add to that that Dwight’s understanding of the situation is imperfect to say the least, down to the last moment of the movie, and you have—not exactly an anti-revenge flick, but something that challenges any idea that revenge is tidy.
It’s a very good balancing act: I mean, it’s a relatively easy thing to take an anti-violence stance, an anti-revenge stance, and so on. And of course, the staple of revenge stories is to add that element of fantasy that provides a kind of vicarious release with no consequences. It’s a much, much trickier thing to present a story—well, shoot, it’s almost an inverted revenge flick, when I think about it.
Anyway, well done. The Boy liked it.
The acting is fairly low-key given the subject, and has that “natural” feel, like people just showing up and being themselves, which works well for the story. This is aided by writer/director/cinematographer Jeremy Saulnier’s style of shooting, which is very intimate.
As I said, not your average revenge pic, and fairly unsensational—but engrossing.