Rating: A/ As far as I can tell, one of the great mysteries of the modern age is why Macon Blair’s career didn’t go wild after being in this movie. Blair plays Dwight, and let me tell you, he makes one hell of an entrance. A traumatized homeless vagrant with achingly sad, lost eyes, Dwight is a guy for whom jumping out of a window naked after sneaking a bath on the sly is the extent of his criminal activity, but that’s before a compassionate police officer takes him to the station and gently informs him that ‘he’ has gotten out of prison.
‘He,’ we are meant to infer, is a very bad guy, and we eventually find out that the target of Dwight’s rage and anguish is Wade Cleland Jr., the man who killed both his parents and derailed his life. Dwight immediately starts preparing to pull off a brutal revenge scheme, believing that killing Wade will give him some sort of closure. But Dwight isn’t exactly a mastermind vigilante, and the acts of violence he commits are messy, misguided, and wouldn’t you know, they actually have consequences. Things get murkier and murkier, and Dwight’s attempts to get even go badly awry when his sister (Amy Hargreaves) and her two little girls get involved.
This film was funded with kickstarter, but it turns out to be a incredibly polished tale of revenge and it’s consequences, with an Oscar-worthy performance by Macon Blair. Blair talks with his eyes and although his dialogue is scarce compared to that of more verbose protagonists, he makes you almost immediately protective and sympathetic to his character, the most soft-spoken, depressed, and vulnerable vigilante killer in the world. Blue Ruin takes an incredibly real stance on the violence it portrays, making it neither cathartic or ultimately worthwhile, though the Cleland family’s outrageous trashiness makes it ever-so-slightly satisfying, at least for a moment.
Unlike it’s Hollywood counterparts that overstate, preach, and simplify their backstories and their acts of revenge, Blue Ruin is restrained and subtle, almost to a fault. Instead of loudly and self-righteously demanding justice for the wrongs that have been committed against his family, Dwight is a extremely quiet, withdrawn protagonist, and seems all too plausible in comparison to the plethora of posturing, quipping, and practically invincible alpha male muscle men who inhabit revenge films primarily to fulfill some fantasy of machismo. Dwight’s not ‘cool’ or ‘bad-ass’, he’s depressed and desperate, and desperate people do stupid things.
By targeting the Cleland family, he puts his sister in a lot of danger, and the only way to fix what he has done is to commit more violence. Only when every member of the Cleland brood is in the ground will Dwight undo the the damage he has wrought, but every action has a consequence, and when he dispatches of Wade in a spectacularly brutal style, he gets himself in deeper shit than he can easily get out of. This movie illustrates that while revenge seems like a good idea at the time and might be well-deserved on the part of the wrongdoer, it rarely ends well, and it can wreak more havoc on the people around you than you had originally intended.
Not like any revenge film you have ever seen before, Blue Ruin is so much more believable than your average Hollywood claptrap. Blair gives a hauntingly effective performance, speaking volumes with very little dialogue, and the overwhelming feeling of realism and hopelessness takes Blue Ruin a cut beyond your run-of-the-mill popcorn movie.
Former child star Devin Ratray costars as Dwight’s ex-military college friend Ben, who gets Dwight out of a tight spot when Dwight comes to his ranch with a live man in his trunk, but all the supporting players fade a little compared to Dwight himself, a quiet, by all intents and purposes, weirdly good-natured killer who comes to the Shenandoah Valley (where I was born and bred) to settle the score of wrongs committed against his family. We wish, for his sake, that things would be that simple, but unfortunetely revenge plots tend to get out of hand. It’s only in movies that they are simple. but this is not one of those movies, and we love it for it’s gutsy portrayal of retribution gone badly wrong.