There have been many films that center on the nature of revenge, but it is very rare that any of them will ever match the haunting strength of Jeremy Saulnier's 2013 modern masterwork, Blue Ruin. I don't think I have ever have seen such a raw, grim depiction of the flawed nature that comes with masculinity and the devastating truths that surround humanity, or the dark side of it. It is one of those films where everything came together like a flash of lightning that is so strong, I was left visibly shaken and stunned.
The story concerns a quiet, mysterious man of few words named Dwight (Macon Blair), who after hearing of his parents' killer being released from prison, seeks revenge and justice against not just the killer himself, but also his family. While doing so, he tries to reconnect with his estranged sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves), who has damages of her own. He is rather inexperienced when it comes to the art of assassin, so he seeks help from a former high school friend Devin Ratray (Ben Gaffney), who shows him the ropes, and in a brutal series of events, his taste for vengeance takes him deeper and deeper into some really dark and tragic consequences.
For an independently made film, it is a very bravua production, full of chilling atmosphere and bleak subtlety. There is a sense of doom that lurks in every corner of the screen. The tension between people, places, and objects is expertly precise. Not to give it away, but the first ten or fifteen wordless sequences with leading character Dwight is nothing short of remarkable, because at first you're not exactly sure who he is, or what his purpose really is, but it keeps you guessing until the very last shot.
Director Saulnier's keen eye for landscape, intensity, and flawed characters puts him into the league of acclaimed directors, such as David Fincher, Jonathan Demme, Michael Mann, and even Kathryn Bigelow. There is also the spirit of Hitchcock in every frame, because there is a serious suspenseful edge that surrounds every inch of the screen, in which there is no telling what will happen next.
There isn't much violence in Blue Ruin, but when it hits, it hits extremely hard. While most movies go too far and splatter the audience with lots of blood and gore, this film does it with a sophistication that goes deep for the jugular. It is strong enough to make you turn away, but the film is so good you can't because you don't want to miss any second of it.
I can't forget the amazing cast that Mr. Saulnier has assembled for the film. Macon Blair is a total revelation as our main protagonist, Dwight. He is like a young Harry Dean Stanton because his face communicates everything you need to know about his complex acting creation. I see a future for him. Amy Hargreaves has a very memorable portrayal as Sam and she is just as strong as Blair. I have to admit, it was shocking to see Devin Ratray, who played Buzz in the first Home Alone films, nailing his part and creating the biggest impression as Ben, who he teaches Dwight how to use a gun. It was an even bigger shock to see Eve Plumb, famous for playing Jan Brady in The Brady Bunch in a film like this. It was very odd to see Jan using a gun, but I guess with all that insecurity and envy towards Marcia, that anger was bound to explode eventually.
For such a well-made film, the special features of the Blu-ray and DVD are unusually light, but for the most part, they are great. The audio commentary with Saulnier and Blair informs in an entertaining way about the labor of love that was the film. Everything you need to know about the story, production, casting, and success is discussed in a wry, matter-of-fact way. The making of Blue Ruin is an unusually emotional documentary, and also discusses the casting, shooting and critical acclaim, especially the success at the Cannes Film Festival. In terms of making-of featurettes, it is a definite must-see. There are two deleted scenes, including the extended opening that are great to watch as well. Last, but not least, there is a camera test, which is a short location shoot that was used to convey the original tone and mood of the film.
If you're looking for a way out of the overblown, overstated blockbuster season, you'll be hard-pressed to find a film that is better than Blue Ruin. It is an intense, visceral experience that is so well-thought out and powerful..