The New Avenger
The revenge thriller’s such a staple that it’s tempting to say we’ve seen every variant, but not so: Blue Ruin is something more, pulp fiction with lashes of Jim Thompson-esque provincial nihilism, sans the hardboiled leading man. In his stead there’s Macon Blair’s Dwight with his dough, child-like eyes – a broken man, turned vagrant, who takes a break from sleeping in his rusted Pontiac to avenge the death of his parents when the convicted killer’s released from prison. If that sounds like a meat and potatoes plot, it is, but the twist here is that Dwight is a nervous and vulnerable nobody; a man so lacking in guile and aggression that he could be you and I. It’s as if a telephone sales rep has been dropped into a genre movie by accident and it’s this incongruity that gives Jeremy Saulnier’s film its tension: the men coming after Dwight aren’t the type to call the police – he is – but he doesn’t and an awkward and gaffe strewn effort to settle the score ensues.
Like the best of these thrillers, Dwight is a man with a past; grief and mentally illness; providing the necessary shading to a quiet and twitchy character who just about manages to stay alive with help from school friend and gun nut, Ben. The assist is a neat device to highlight the avenger’s ineptitude – “you missed from two yards?” – as well as a reminder that the real world Dwight represents doesn’t function like a revenge thriller. Ben advises against long speeches, just to aim and shoot, and this undercutting of genre tropes subtly and incrementally ups the stakes for our leading man: we understand he’s not going to prevail as heroes do, with posturing and machismo, he may not prevail at all – it’s riveting stuff.
Tight as a drum at ninety minutes, Ruin runs a line through the Virginian working class, a place of racists, seedy bar toilets, railway clearings and isolated houses. The state’s tourist board will have reason to cry foul but it’s a great setting for a movie about poking a hornet’s nest – a nasty, bare-boned thriller in which the unassuming American middle class meet their bogeymen. That the plot’s driven by cross-pollination, Dwight’s Dad’s affair with the hick family’s mother, arguably makes it a little conservative; another American movie that warns against penetrating too deep into the old Confederacy; but you can’t argue with the results. This is a sublime noir that deserves to be seen, such is its power and brutality.