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By Jake Howell jake.howell@utoronto.ca

The Torontonian Reviews BLUE RUIN

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“Did you just come out of Blue Ruin?” asked a breathless Toronto film programmer one day back in May. “No? What a really tight revenge thriller.”

He looked overwhelmed by what he had just seen.

Written, directed, and shot by Jeremy Saulnier (2007’s Murder Party), and on a successful Kickstarter budget to boot, the film is about as independent as they come. Fortunately, the quality of the end result transcends any stigmas or misgivings you may have about low-to-no-budget independent film, thanks to Saunter’s impressive triple-threat efforts.

As much as I love Quentin Tarantino—likely the authority of contemporary revenge films—some audiences may have found 2012’s Django Unchained bloated, with scenes that stretched long and indulgences that had a smaller payoff than we’d want.

Blue Ruin, on the other hand, clocks in at a crisp 92 minutes and is gripping for nearly all of them.

It’s unclear if knowing as little as possible is the ideal approach to experience Blue Ruin, but hearing it described as a “really tight revenge thriller” was plenty to pique my interest. Nevertheless: lusting for revenge, the vagrant Dwight (Macon Blair, Hellbenders) learns that a bad man has been released from prison. With only a dilapidated blue Pontiac and the last vestiges of his humanity, Dwight hits the road to close a chapter of his history.

There’s plenty more narrative for Saulnier to keep us guessing, but the set-up and ensuing narrative kinks are believable and devoid of contrivances. More importantly, Blue Ruin comes bearing zero frills attached: the action is streamlined and exciting, the comic relief is perfectly timed, and the lead-foot pace maintains its acceleration before peaking at a bloody climax. Think lean and mean—then add some laughs and surprises for good measure. There’s also a glimpse of commentary on U.S. gun culture, but it isn’t too heavy to outright hijack the film’s primary thrills. This is first and foremost a great story, and one that is told well.

Given how much solo screentime his character has, Macon Blair’s Dwight is especially taciturn, and the film becomes a character study via the facial expressions of a desperate man. The dialogue that Dwight does have, however, is delivered with the requisite depression you’d expect from the character, and the result is a sadness that earns our sympathy (and our winces, when things get gory). Blair, who also helped produced the film, should be commended for carrying such a physical role.

I must also praise Saulnier’s gorgeous cinematography—a directorial achievement in and of itself—but there’s a sequence with Dwight driving along a misty stretch of forest highway that has been embedded in my memory for quite some time now. The images are captured high up and far behind Dwight’s Pontiac from what must have been a camera mounted to a bus, and we get the feeling that he is driving into the unknown with palpable purpose. It’s a masterful shot, and it’s just one example of balanced and visually striking use of color, from the indelible blood stains on Dwight’s white shirt to the Pontiac’s blue tint whizzing past forest greens.

It should be enough to say that Blue Ruin is a top-notch vengeance thriller from start to finish, but its artistic merit is just as striking as its violence. When it was posted last year, Saulnier’s Kickstarter pitch assured the project was “a revenge film equally suited for art house cinephiles and die-hard genre fans,” and I can do nothing but agree with the highest of recommendations. The film now sits comfortably amongst my still-forming top-ten list of this year, but it’s not likely to be ousted by the end of December.

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One Response to “The Torontonian Reviews BLUE RUIN”

  1. Ron Bliss says:

    Being a Marne veteran, kick ass revenge can be enormously gratifying. I await this films release in our Concord, NC
    neck of the woods.

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“We don’t defy the laws of physics: There are no flying men or cars in this movie. So it made sense to do it old-school: real vehicles and real human beings in the desert. We shot the movie more or less in continuity, because the cars and the characters get really banged up along the way. The biggest benefit of digital technology for me was that the cameras were smaller and much more agile, so you could put them anywhere. We also spent a huge amount of time on spatial awareness—making sure the viewer could follow the action and understand what was happening. There has to be a strong causal connection from one shot to the next, just the same way that in music, there has to be a connection from one note to the next. Otherwise it’s just noise. Too often, if you just cram a lot of stuff into the frame, you get the illusion of a fast pace. But there’s no coherence. It doesn’t flow. It comes off as headbanging music, and it can be exhausting. We storyboarded the movie before we had a script: We had 3,500 boards, which helps the cast and crew understand how everything is going to fit together. Movies are getting faster and faster. The Road Warrior had 1,200 cuts. This one has 2,700 cuts. You have to treat it like a symphony.”
~ George Miller

“I was having issues with my script for It’s All About Love, so I called Ingmar Bergman and we ended up talking about everything but the script. He said, “Well, Festen is a masterpiece, so what are you going to do now?” At that point, I had not decided if I was going to make It’s All About Love, so I answered, “Hmmm, I don’t know. Maybe this, maybe that.” There was just a long pause, and then he said, “You’re fucked.” I said, “Well, how can you know?” “Well, Thomas, you always have to decide your next movie before the movie you’re doing presently opens.” And I said, “Why is that?” “Well, two things can happen. One thing is that you fail, and then you’ll feel scared and humiliated. It’ll get into your head. Second, and even worse, you have success, and then you’ll want more of it, or you’ll want to maintain it. But if you decide on your next film while you’re in the middle of editing, it becomes a very nonchalant choice. And then it’s shorter from the heart to the hand.”
~ Thomas Vinterberg

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