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.

Debuts Blogathon: Joel Coen – Blood Simple (1984)

Debuts Blogathon

Today in the Debuts Blogathon, hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, I’m delighted to welcome the contribution of Mark from Marked Movies. This was one of the first blogs I followed and I’ve never been less than mightily impressed by his output. Mark’s reviews set a high standard, while his great features, such as ‘Classic Scene’, are great fun to read. Here Mark covers Joel ‘Coen Brother’ Coen’s celebrated first feature Blood Simple. In case you haven’t already signed up to Marked Movies, do so now. You won’t regret it.

Joel Coen

Blood Simple (1984)

Having cut his teeth as Assistant Editor on director Sam Raimi’s cult classic The Evil Dead in 1981, Joel Coen went on to become a fully fledged director himself with his debut Blood Simple in 1984.

Blood Simple Poster On the advice of Raimi, Joel and his brother Ethan (whom it has always been said, actually shared directorial duties) went door-to-door showing potential investors a two minute ‘trailer’ of the film they planned to make, which resulted in them raising $750,000 and just enough to begin production of their movie. It was at this point that two of cinema’s most consistent and original talents had arrived.

Blood SimpleIn West Texas, saloon owner Julian Marty (Dan Hedaya) suspects that his wife Abby (Frances McDormand) is cheating on him with Ray (John Getz), one of his bartenders. Marty then hires Loren Visser (M. Emmet Walsh), a private detective, to investigate. Once Marty gains proof of the adulterous affair, he pays Visser to kill them. However, Visser is a very unscrupulous type and has plans of his own.

When you comb through the filmography of the Coen’s, three renowned and highly respected crime writers will inevitably surface. They are: James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. However, it’s their debut Blood Simple that fully harks back to the hard boiled noirs of the 1940′s, namely The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity – both of which are written by Cain and the latter, in fact, co-scripted by Chandler when it made it the screen.

Blood SimpleHammett was also a contemporary of these writers and wrote the novel Red Harvest, which actually coined the term “blood simple”. It is described as “the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations”. This very description sums the movie up perfectly. It’s a homage to these great writers and the genre they excelled in. Also, like their stories, once the characters and their motivations are established, there is no going back.

Although this was their debut, labyrinthine plots and double-crosses would become a staple of the Coens’ work that followed. Give or take the odd zany comedy, their filmography largely consists of these writers; Miller’s Crossing was heavily influenced by Hammett’s The Glass Key, while The Big Lebowski loosely took its structure from the work of Raymond Chandler, and James M. Cain would resurface in The Man Who Wasn’t There. Even the Oscar-winning Fargo and No Country For Old Men could be seen as riffs on Blood Simple itself. The thing that’s most apparent about this debut from the Coen’s, though, is that their stylistic approach is plain to see. It cast the mould from which we have witnessed their serpentine abilities in storytelling and hugely inventive directorial flourishes.

Blood SimpleMuch has been said about the cinematography on the Coens’ output. This has largely been due to the work of their regular collaborator Roger Deakins. However, it was Barry Sonnenfeld who worked on the first three Coen’s movies and you’d be hard pushed to notice much of a difference between them. This simply comes down to them translating exactly the vision that the brothers had. That’s not to take away from the work of Deakins or, in this case, Sonnenfeld as their cinematography has always been sublime but ultimately it comes down to the Coens’ inventively keen eye for a shot.

Blood SimpleThey are known for being sticklers for detail, knowing exactly what they want and exactly how it should look and working from a shoestring budget doesn’t prevent them from realising their Hitchcockian melee of passion, bloodshed and suspense. If anything, their limited budget shows how artistic and creative they really are and they’re not without (or what would become) their trademark moments of irony.

The Coen Brothers have gone on to become two of the most respected filmmakers in the business, and rightfully so. With many classics – cult and mainstream – under their belts already, there’s really no end to what they’re capable of. That being said, it’s always a pleasure to return to their roots and see where it all began.

Over at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, Alex from And So It Begins… writes about David Gordon Green’s much-loved debut George Washington. Head over to Chris’s site now by clicking here.

Next up, it’s the turn of Ruth from the awesome FlixChatter. Ruth will be covering Ben Affleck’s first feature Gone Baby Gone. Looking forward to this; see you then.