Blue Ruin’s opening sequence occurs devoid of dialogue. An unnamed vagrant sleeps on beaches, sneaks into empty, gleaming, suburban houses to use the facilities and scavenges for food in fairground rubbish bins. Beautifully shot by writer/director Jeremy Saulnier, the film present a melancholy, though never overbearingly dark, view of the day to day life of a homeless man, providing no explanation of why he is there or whether it is of his own volition. A friendly and seemingly familiar policewoman approaches the car in which our nameless protagonist has been sleeping and takes him in to speak about the early release of the man who was convicted of murdering his parents. This is sprung upon the viewer without any foreshadowing or warning and was quite jarring after the opening scenes.
From that point on, the drifting, existential images of a man lost in his own sadness dissolve and Blue Ruin becomes a reasonably straightforward, violent, gory and, at times, tense revenge flick. Our main character is given a name, Dwight, a backstory, an extended family and direction; sadly, for me, Blue Ruin then became a less interesting film.
Movies about revenge, from the Tarantino comic book fetish of Kill Bill to countless, faceless 80s action movies need to have something about them that makes them stand out from the rest: a shocking twist, a slightly unusual set up, a reinterpretation of the kind of events that lead up to the final emotional release when the hunter eventually catches his prey. Blue Ruin has a strong central performance by Macon Blair as the determined, if hapless, bloodthirsty seeker of the cold dish on the menu – he is in almost every scene and transforms his character dramatically simply by cleaning himself up physically. The story tries to delve deeper into a subplot about how the whole family of whose demise he wishes to see are a local, powerful generational crime syndicate that completely runs and owns the town which Dwight is from.
However, the latter is underdeveloped and the two former aren’t sufficient enough to make Blue Ruin stand out. The plot remains simple and predictable, with a couple of straggly ends, and the premise is never about anything else other than Dwight avenging the death of his parents.
Blue Ruin has received a number of plaudits from film festivals across the world and has gained weighty comparisons to the likes of Blood Simple by the Coen Brothers. This is baffling to me but Blue Ruin isn’t a bad film. Comparisons to the Coens’ work seem misplaced and forced. The violence in Blue Ruin isn’t used as sparingly as Joel and Ethan would, and while the gore is vivid, it evokes a response of “ew that’s gross” rather than ramping up the tension. Furthermore, the wit of the Coens’ best work is absent – while I smirked once or twice in a blackly comic way, this does not meet the heights of Blood Simple, The Big Lebowski or even their more serious work like No Country for Old Men. It is this which blighted my reception of Blue Ruin, going to show that hefty and lauded comparisons can be more damaging than advantageous. It rarely provides anything new.
Blue Ruin starts as an interesting film about a lost soul that too quickly turns into a lot of running, expressions of angst and dripping blood. It is an exquisitely shot and watchable movie, but a merely passable revenge thriller, and that is what it wants to be. A film exploring the psychological effect that the murder of his parents, the imprisonment of the culprit and his eventual unexpected release had on Dwight would have been a better fit to the style Saulnier expressed in the early moments of this film, rather than the mindless killing spree it turned into.