Judge Jason Panella just ruined teal.
Revenge comes home.
"I know this is personal. That's how you'll fail."
Facts of the Case
Dwight (Macon Blair, Murder Party) is a quiet drifter living along the coast of Maryland. He's become a shell of a man after the death of his parents, surviving on discarded fast food and sheltering in a rickety blue sedan. After his parents' murderer is released early from prison, Dwight plans to get revenge on the killer and his vicious family.
Some movies hit you out of the gate. Blue Ruin was one of those movies; I had high hopes for the film, considering the amount of buzz it received on the festival circuit, but I never expected it to emotionally club me like it did. It's hard to believe that this is only the second film from director Jeremy Saulnier (Murder Party), who also wrote and shot the film—it feels like the work of a seasoned pro. This might be because Saulnier worked as a cinematographer-for-hire on a number of indie pictures and corporate videos in the six years between his two films. It really shows. Saulnier also gave it his all to get this thing made—a successful Kickstarter campaign, maxed-out credit cards, depleted retirement funds, and lots of "no"s from studios. The film's success—including its unexpected premiere and praise at the Cannes Film Festival—feels like justice.
Blue Ruin takes a familiar genre—the revenge thriller—and puts a little twist on it. What if the protagonist were a normal person? Dwight isn't a professional killer, just an average Joe who thinks the only way he can achieve closure is through retribution. The movie commits to the idea right away and doesn't give Dwight an easy way out. It's brave to do this; other films make the indecision to commit murder the central conflict, but Blue Ruin is more interested in the aftereffects of violence on a person who isn't a killer. Saulnier has said that movies like the Coen brothers' Blood Simple were an influence, and that sounds about right. The good brothers Coen are masters at showing how ghoulish chaos can quickly spring from the everyday, and Saulnier achieves the same sort of thing here. (Though maybe without the same level of cosmic tomfoolery that the Coens regularly pull off, with or without violence.) And believe me, Saulnier's film is violent. The bloodshed isn't unrelenting, but when it does happen, it's in frantic bursts of nasty realism. The film's squirm-worthy parts even act as an antidote to the cartoonish gore in many other genre films.
Once Dwight's course for revenge is set, Saulnier fills the spaces between the violence with some unbearably tense scenes. Dwight is almost always in over his head, and his actions drag his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves, Shame) and high school pal Ben (Devin Ratray, Home Alone) into the fray. The majority of the film is fraught with dread, and mundane nature of the setting and characters gives Blue Ruin an unnerving edge. The cast—which includes Kevin Kolack (The Family) and Eve Plumb (The Brady Bunch)—is uniformly great, though the supporting roles get very little screentime. That makes sense, since the film is really about Dwight. Macon Blair is fantastic, and the sad, knowing expression he wears for most of the film is haunting—it's like he knows that once the blood starts flowing, things aren't going to end happily for anyone. Blair also finesses some humor out of the role, too, usually by juxtaposing what you'd expect to happen in a revenge movie with what really happens. Blue Ruin is filled with fine performances, but the movie belongs to Macon Blair.
Anchor Bay's release of Blue Ruin (Blu-ray) is pretty good. The 2.40:1/1080p widescreen transfer looks excellent. Saulnier used a modestly priced Canon digital camera to shoot the film; apart from some issues I had with the black levels, this film looks great. Detail is consistently sharp, which really gets highlighted in facial close-ups. The film uses a muted color palette that looks perfect for the subject matter, especially the recurring flashes of blue. As I mentioned before, some of the black tones become a bit murky from time to time, but not too bad. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix is also great. The atmospheric quality of this film extends to the audio track too, and this mix does an outstanding job of picking up the little things that matter so much to the story: doors locking, feet scraping on pavement, crossbow bolts whistling, and so on. The film features a lot of diegetic sound, and thankfully this mix doesn't let the dialogue get lost in the shuffle. The extras are excellent in quality, though I wish there were more: "No Regrets: The Making of Blue Ruin" (18:56) is an excellent overview of the film and how it came to be, including some recollections from the cast and crew; two deleted scenes (4:59), with optional commentary from Saulnier and Blair; a haunting camera test (3:52) Saulnier used to shop the film around (complete with equally haunting Wye Oak track); and audio commentary track for the feature from Saulnier and Blair—while it's insight in the usual ways, the fact that the pair have been close friends their entire lives makes for a particularly fun listen.
What makes Blue Ruin work so well is that it doesn't scrimp as a nail-biting genre picture or as a thoughtful indie. The fact that it was so confidently made on such a tiny budget makes it even more impressive. It's a tight, fierce little picture that deserves all of the acclaim it gets. Anchor Bay does a nice job with their high definition treatment on Blue Ruin (Blu-ray), so this release is highly recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
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