Our Sundance Film Festival coverage continues with Michael Cusumano on "Blue Ruin".
Thrillers like Jeremry Saulnier’s Blue Ruin live or die by the quality of their plotting. Events must unfold with an airtight logic, each dreadful event spinning inevitably out from the last. The suspense evaporates if we feel the character being pushed by the writer’s hand instead of being pulled forward by their own irresistible urges. Blue Ruin pitiless screenplay meets this standard and then some. It is an uncommonly absorbing film that goes on a list with other great tales of venality and murder like of Blood Simple and One False Move. And if isn’t necessarily the equal of those masterpieces, it is awfully close.
When we first meet Dwight (Mason Blair, captivating) he is living out of a broken down car and surviving on what he can pick out of the trash at a nearby boardwalk. The film never explicitly spells out what brought him to this low point, but we gather that his life took a downhill turn years ago when his parents were murdered. Dwight is jolted out of this aimless existence when a sympathetic police officer informs him that the man responsible for their death has just made parole. Before long Dwight is parked outside of a prison watching his parent’s killer walk free. Clearly, revenge is the order of the day. Why should he try to move on from the past when the past is all he has left?
Dwight is a fascinating character to put at the center of a crime thriller. With his big sad eyes and scraggly vagrant beard, he is no ones idea of a tough guy. During the rare moments when Dwight speaks his voice is soft and lilting, as if it’s grown frail from disuse. He is not particularly good at violence, nor does he appear to experience any catharsis from his mission. This is not a righteous quest for justice, but the resigned playing out of a chain reaction of violence set in motion long ago, and Saulnier is careful not to lend any hint of glory to Dwight’s actions. The film’s most pointed line comes from Dwight’s sister after he informs her that his choices have placed her and her children in danger: “I could forgive you if you were crazy, but you’re not. You’re weak.”
I was unfamiliar with Jeremy Saulnier’s work before this, but any director capable of exerting this level of control over his material has a big career ahead of him. Blue Ruin had me in its pocket from the first shot. Saulnier uses dialogue sparingly, divulges information only when necessary and never strains for flashy stylistic self-indulgence, relying on a straightforward clarity that renders the film’s twisting chain of violence all the more intense. Don't miss this one.
Distribution: Blue Ruin was picked up by Radius-TWC with an eye on a Fall release.