Film and TV

The riveting Blue Ruin is a nail-biter of a revenge drama

Everything in the opening scenes of Jeremy Saulnier's nerve-racking revenge drama Blue Ruin is the color of a bruise, from the ocean to the bullet-hole-pocked Pontiac Bonneville that homeless near-mute Dwight (Macon Blair) calls home. Dwight has never overcome the pain of his parents' murder when he was a boy. On the day a local cop informs him that the murderer, Wade Cleland (Sandy Barnett), will be released from prison, Dwight reconnects the car's battery and drives south to kill him. Immediately, writer-director Saulnier pressures us to root for the premeditated murder of a man we've never met for a crime that isn't fully revealed until the second act. As the phenomenal Blair plays him, our hero/slayer is neither magnetic nor memorable; he's used to people pretending he's invisible, and pads, ghostlike, after his prey.

Saulnier shot Blue Ruin for $38,000, most of it from Kickstarter donations. His lead is his best friend from sixth grade; a centerpiece showdown takes place in his mother's house. There's so little dialogue, it's as though Saulnier feared he'd have to pay a dollar a word. But it looks like a million bucks and plays like gangbusters. It's lip-bitingly tense, not just because of what Dwight aims to do, but because we can't quite believe that this untrained wannabe can actually get it done.

The emergent villain is a gun nut (Devin Ratray) with little reason to keep anyone alive. When Dwight asks him for help, he's overjoyed to pack a goodie bag of ammunition. He gets a thrill from vicarious murder. So do we — we've bought our tickets, after all — but, boy, does Saulnier make us pay double.

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Amy Nicholson was chief film critic at LA Weekly from 2013 to 2016. Her work also appeared in the other Voice Media Group publications — the Village Voice, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press, Dallas Observer and OC Weekly. Nicholson’s criticism was recognized by the Los Angeles Press Club and the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. Her first book, Tom Cruise: Anatomy of an Actor, was published in 2014 by Cahiers du Cinema.