Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blue Ruin

BLUE RUIN                B                     
USA  (92 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  Jeremy Saulnier

Jeremy Saulnier was the superb cinematographer in Matthew Porterfield’s experimental films HAMILTON (2006) and Putty Hill (2010), while making his first feature MURDER PARTY (2007, which could easily be the title of this film as well), a kind of comic Halloween bloodbath, while still holding onto a career in advertising, creating product videos for Kraft Foods, IBM, Viacom, and the NHL.  This second film was the winner of the Director’s Fortnight FIPRESCI Award at Cannes 2013, a marked upgrade in critical acclaim, an ultra stylish revenge thriller made on the cheap, featuring the director’s childhood best friend as the lead actor and executive producer, Macon Blair as Dwight, a homeless man living in his rusted out blue Pontiac on the beach, where the opening sequence replicates Morris Engel’s often overlooked American indie film Little Fugitive (1953), where Dwight similarly hides out under protective cover at the local amusement park, also picking up disposable bottles left laying about and returning them to recycling centers for cash, where immediately we get the feel this is an eccentric and possibly creepy guy living on the fringes.  The cops pick him up not for anything he’s done, but to warn him that the convicted dual murderer of his mother and father is being released from jail soon, which sets a series of events in motion, such as an ominous visit to the local gun shop.  Saulnier does a good job playing with the audience’s expectations, always throwing them a bit off kilter, using plenty of odd humor throughout.  What this really comes down to is watching a geeky loner who has spent his life avoiding people, who barely talks to anyone, suddenly going after the Cleland family, savagely gruesome, grindhouse B-movie characters in the mold of Rob Zombie’s THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005), a film that took sadistic trailer trash and elevated it to an art form. 

The audience knows Dwight is in over his head, and every conceivable plan he comes up with goes haywire, but Saulnier amps up the suspense throughout, knowing full well that the audience can’t take their eyes off this foolhardy attempt to exact revenge for his family.  Why he feels the need to pull this off, we’ll never know, as this writer/director confidently leaves out plenty of back story, luring us right into the middle of the action, which at times is fast and fierce, while at other times there’s a lull between the storms, where like a cat, Dwight disappears and licks his wounds.  Acting against type, Dwight surprises us with is ingenuity, though it’s sheer damn luck that seems to get him out of situations, certainly not forethought, as most of the time he responds to pure kneejerk reactions, such as the moment of truth when he springs upon his prey like a man possessed, an unflinching moment of violence reminiscent of a similar moment in Jacques Audiard’s 2010 Top Ten Films of the Year: #10 A Prophet ....  Once he crosses the line, there’s no turning back, as neither he nor the audience have a clue what’s in store for him.  The things that catch his eye are often weirdly amusing, or just plain odd, but he has the good sense to rely upon the help of others, starting out with his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves), who nearly busts his chops for reviving this blood feud, as she’s now with two children and a home, making her a convenient target.  From that point on, the film seems to take on a life of its own, as it’s Jamie Lee Curtis preparing to meet the bogeyman in HALLOWEEN (1978).  

Tracking down another friend is inspired by a scan through Dwight’s high school yearbook, where Devin Ratray as local war veteran Ben is the best thing in the picture, as he steals every scene he’s in.  Ben isn’t sure what to make of Dwight’s situation at all, and since he’s the one usually perceived as having a screw loose, Dwight must be in sick trouble, but he tries his best to help him out, only sensing what deep shit he must be in.  But Dwight, being who he is, continues to fuck up, but he’s a lovable loser who’s forced to turn into some kind of super sleuth and RAMBO-like warrior on the loose.  Vigilante justice is a genre unto itself, and this director seems to enjoy changing the rules of the game, shifting genres, and putting his lead character into ever more increasing danger, adding dark noirish elements throughout, anything to heighten the atmospheric mood.  The film is fraught with tension, but takes a predictable turn by the end, where the story simply runs out of options, though seeing Eve Plumb from The Brady Bunch (1969-74) as the redneck mama urging her boys to kill this son-of-a-bitch has a charm all its own.  It gets a little dicey, where family secrets are finally revealed, but this plays out like mafia families who vow revenge, refusing to back down under any circumstances, as if it’s a matter of honor.  Well, there’s little honor to speak of, and the moral grounds crossed by all participants keeps the audience guessing what will happen next.  It’s a taut thriller, dark and highly entertaining, continually atmospheric, well written and well directed, with a refreshing take on familiar themes.      

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