Brief impression: “Blue Ruin”

May 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Jeremy Saulnier’s sophomore feature as a writer-director spent much of 2013 screening at festivals where it was widely lauded for reasons unclear to me; unclear not because ‘Blue Ruin’ is a bad film, but because it does not strike me as being undeniably outstanding. It generally follows the current mould of independent American filmmaking: shallow focus, intimate framing, deliberate naturalism, humming score, flirtations with slow pacing, loose narrative flow….

In my mind, this movie’s saving grace is the general feeling it gives off, the feeling that protagonist Dwight does what he does because he truly has nothing else to do with himself and is unable to rustle up an alternative sense of purpose. This may perhaps be the very thing which keeps it from coming across as merely a vehicle for a series of suspenseful set-pieces or just a standard tale of vengeance, which is unfortunately the way in which the final standoff/shootout threatens to immortalise the picture. I appreciate that the final few shots then seem to pull the tone of the film from the edge of trigger-happy bombast back to one of sobriety and mild sentiment, as if to say “yes, there have been thrills, there has much suspense and your heart might be racing, but this is ultimately a lament.” Lamenting what: loneliness and its consequences? Gun ubiquity in the US? Humankind’s affinity for tribalism and the resultant violence? Misguided loyalty? I can’t say for sure.

Through a careful interplay between leading man Macon Blair’s “I’m somewhere on the autism spectrum” performance and the way Jeremy Saulnier chooses to observe and follow Dwight’s endeavour to avenge his ma and pa, a strange sense of motivational credibility is achieved.  Dwight is wide-eyed and appears somewhat hyper-aware, but in a way that suggests constitutional behavioural quirks as opposed to plain old paranoia. Maybe he was always a bit “special”, but this specialness has been “exacerbated” by the tragedy he has suffered and the consequent sense of dislocation he likely feels. Saulnier’s directorial approach is a mix of the anthropological and the procedural, patiently watching Dwight as he perceives the world around him, reacts to these perceptions – however heightened, and thinks through the challenges thrown at him. Within minutes of the film’s opening, the significance of this loss on his overall stability as a person is made perfectly clear: here is a man who now has nothing and who is simultaneously angry about it, disoriented by it, and desperate to restore some sort of moral balance. I would tentatively argue that it is this increasing aura of confusion and misguided devotion which subtly separates Dwight’s quest for retribution from the pig-headed bravado that seems to drive most vengeful protagonists, making “Blue Ruin’s” mild mayhem into more than just genre indulgence.

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