Cannes 2013 Review – Blue Ruin

Delaware, an unspecified location. A vagrant flees from the house he invaded to take a bath, because the owners are coming home. We follow the man, who lives out of his car, in his daily routine of finding food, looking for shelter, and doing everything he can to stay out of society's eye. One morning a police officer takes him into the station to warn him that a convicted murderer has been released from jail. The protagonist's relation to the murderer is not immediately clear, but he packs up and sets course for rural Virginia. Trailing the released criminal and his welcoming party from the penitentiary, he finds a way to kill the man in the bathroom of a roadside bar. While he manages to escape the man's family and entourage, he soon realizes that his action, which turned out to be revenge for the killing of his parents many years ago, will put his estranged family's lives in danger, and he has to protect them at any cost.

Director Jeremy Saulnier's sophomore feature film (his first was 2007's cult horror flick Murder Party) is a revenge genre entry set in his native Deep South (he was born and raised in Virginia). Mostly known as a cinematographer, the young director shows a knack for the genre in this tense, slow-building thriller following a man who is set on revenge, but is clearly not cut out for the job. The soft-spoken and droopy-eyed Dwight Evans is played with an excellent mix of fierce intent and frightened reluctance by Saulnier's longtime friend Macon Blair, who is in virtually every frame of the film. His character is clearly in over his head, leading him and his director on a trail of wrong decisions and gruesome set pieces, often providing a bit of dark humor (Dwight trying to remove an arrow from his leg provides a special case of 'bloody fun'). Saulnier paces the film expertly to a boiling point, keeping the story lean and concise, and also demonstrating a good cinematographic eye. He did basically everything on the film himself (directing, writing, cinematography), even down to shooting in his childhood home, and Blue Ruin shows a lot of promise for the still-young director (he's in his mid-thirties). He also came across as very down to earth and having a sense of humor at the Q&A afterwards. When asked about the significance of the color blue, he said he had prepared a profound statement for that question, but admitted that he just googled 'debacle' and came up with 'blue ruin.' As unpretentious as his film, a very appealing quality.

The acting comes down, as noted, squarely on the shoulders of Macon Blair, who proves more than capable of carrying a small film like this as the reluctant antihero. Blair looks like a character actor who could do wonders in the right kind of supporting roles, giving off the vibe of a younger and more restrained Paul Giamatti. Notable other roles are filled by Amy Hargreaves (best known for looking out a hotel window in Shame with Michael Fassbender behind her, and for TV's Homeland) and Devin Ratray as Dwight's gun-loving friend Ben.