Review – Blue Ruin

If revenge is a dish best served cold, then it’s never tasted so deliciously chilly than this stripped-back modern classic.

Concluding his Kickstarter pitch, Jeremy Saulnier stakes his career on the promise that he'll make good on those willing to put their faith in his film. After watching Blue Ruin, it's safe to say that faith has been hugely rewarded

Saulnier staked his career on the promise that he’d do good by those willing to put their faith in his film. After watching Blue Ruin, it’s safe to say that faith has been hugely rewarded

Looking for funding to help complete his sophomore feature through Kickstarter, writer-director Jeremy Saulnier pitched Blue Ruin as “not your standard revenge film. It does not glorify violence; it does not justify violence. It does the opposite”.

Thank goodness the public stepped in to hand over their hard-earned cash to help Saulnier deliver on that promise and turn in a truly subversive take on the traditional revenge picture.

Dwight (Macon Blair) prepares for a grisly deed in Blue Ruin

Dwight (Macon Blair) prepares for a grisly deed in Blue Ruin

Beach bum Dwight’s (Macon Blair) sheltered and reclusive life takes a hellish turn when he receives sickening news from an unlikely source. The revelation sets Dwight on a self-destructive path of revenge that leads to a bloody and unremitting aftermath he is ill-prepared for.

Blue Ruin has invited comparisons to the Coens, specifically their noirish debut Blood Simple, although the sombre and haunted No Country For Old Men feels like a more suitable reference point, right down to the similarity of the two films’ posters.

Dwight's (Macon Blair) descent begins in Blue Ruin

Dwight’s (Macon Blair) descent begins in Blue Ruin

The comparison to Joel and Ethan’s work is understandable, but somewhat depressing as it underlines just how rare films of this ilk are in American cinema.

Revenge movies invariably fall into the tried and tested constraints described by Saulnier in his Kickstarter pitch and adopt an ends-justify-the-means approach. Those films tend to conclude with the ‘happy ending’ of the revenge having been successfully realised, but Blue Ruin takes the entirely darker approach of showing what happens next.

Sam (Amy Hargreaves) takes her brother Dwight (Macon Blair) to task in Blue Ruin

Sam (Amy Hargreaves) takes her brother Dwight (Macon Blair) to task in Blue Ruin

If history has taught us anything, it’s that violence begets violence and Saulnier’s picture isn’t afraid to have Dwight traverse an increasingly bleak and bloody road to hell.

The violence, when it does come, is startling and visceral. There are no winks at the audience or satisfied one-liners; merely chaos, confusion and terror.

Ben (Devin Ratray) shows Dwight (Macon Blair) the ropes of how to use a gun in Blue Ruin

Ben (Devin Ratray) shows Dwight (Macon Blair) the ropes of how to use a gun in Blue Ruin

Clocking in at exactly 90 minutes, the film doesn’t waste a single shot. Dwight is shown in the near-wordless opening reel as a pretty methodical guy, all be it someone living out of a rusted old car. Upon receiving his news, he quickly turns his attention to the mission at hand, but it’s when the act of revenge is complete that Dwight discovers any semblance of control he had no longer exists and all bets are off.

Dwight (Macon Blair) puts those gun skills to test in Blue Ruin

Dwight (Macon Blair) puts those gun skills to test in Blue Ruin

As much as this is Saulnier’s film, so too is it Blair’s. It’s a refreshing performance, one that has a through-line of everyman authenticity to it. Dwight’s no macho action hero; he’s a broken shell with nothing to live for except to save his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and her kids from harm. Blair’s saucer-like eyes are deeply expressive and sell the fear and bewilderment his character endures throughout.

Concluding his Kickstarter pitch, Saulnier staked his career on the promise that he’d do good by those willing to put their faith in his film. After watching Blue Ruin, it’s safe to say that faith has been hugely rewarded.

Advertisements

Great Films You Need To See – Red Rock West (1993)

This is my latest contribution to The Big Picture, the internationally-recognised magazine and website that offers an intelligent take on cinema, focussing on how film affects our lives. This piece about John Dahl’s 1993 western neo noir thriller Red Rock West was written as part of The Big Picture’s Lost Classics strand, although I am including it within my list of Great Films You Need To See.

Cinema’s dustbin is littered with movies that disappeared between the cracks or didn’t fit neatly into any easy-to-sell marketing category.

Watched now, more than 20 years on, Red Rock West has barely aged a day and deserves its place alongside the likes of the Coens’ Blood Simple as one of cinema’s most ingenious neo-noirs

Watched now, more than 20 years on, Red Rock West has barely aged a day and deserves its place alongside the likes of the Coens’ Blood Simple as one of cinema’s most ingenious neo-noirs

It’s a fate that befell the criminally underseen Red Rock West, John Dahl’s sophomore feature that, according to the late Roger Ebert, “exists sneakily between a western and a thriller, between a film noir and a black comedy”.

The film is worth seeing for the cast alone. Nicolas Cage gives one of his most hangdog turns as Michael Williams, an ordinary Joe on the road to nowhere who rolls into dead-end Red Rock and is immediately mistaken for “Lyle from Dallas” by bar owner Wayne Brown (J.T. Walsh).

Michael Williams (Nicolas Cage) fools bar owner Wayne Brown (J.T. Walsh) he's "Lyle from Dallas" in Red Rock West

Michael Williams (Nicolas Cage) fools bar owner Wayne Brown (J.T. Walsh) he’s “Lyle from Dallas” in Red Rock West

Down on his luck, Michael keeps his mouth shut when he accepts $5,000 by Wayne to kill his wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle). He’s then offered double by Suzanne to kill Wayne after telling her about the contract. The plot takes a turn for the perilous with the arrival of the real Lyle (Dennis Hopper), a psychopathic hitman who dresses like he stepped out of a Garth Brooks concert.

Dahl, who co-wrote the script with brother Rick, throws in more twists than a pretzel factory and has a ball in the process. There’s an amusing running joke that sees the exasperated Michael continually trying to leave Red Rock but, like Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank, is seemingly never able to escape.

Michael (Nicolas Cage) gets himself into hot water with Wayne's wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle) in Red Rock West

Michael (Nicolas Cage) gets himself into hot water with Wayne’s wife Suzanne (Lara Flynn Boyle) in Red Rock West

There’s more than a little of David Lynch in the film, and not just because three-quarters of the main cast have worked with him. Hopper is in full-on Frank Booth mode, while Boyle exudes the sort of old school matinee seduction she displayed in Twin Peaks.

In a film of meaty performances, the tastiest is given by Walsh (who should have appeared in a Lynch film, but never did). In lesser hands Wayne could have been a stock villain, but Walsh imbues him with a banality that is all the more chilling for being so underplayed.

Dennis Hopper is in full-on Frank Booth mode as Lyle in Red Rock West

Dennis Hopper is in full-on Frank Booth mode as Lyle in Red Rock West

Dahl is one of life’s nearly men. Now predominately a director of high-end cable and network TV shows, his film career never garnered the commercial success it was due in spite of such entertaining fare as The Last Seduction and Rounders, the Matt Damon and Edward Norton joint that helped launch the current poker craze.

Released in the wake of Reservoir Dogs (1992), Red Rock West became a casualty of the rapidly changing landscape of American independent cinema post-Tarantino. Watched now, more than 20 years on, the film has barely aged a day and deserves its place alongside the likes of the Coens’ Blood Simple (1984) as one of cinema’s most ingenious neo-noirs.