Blue Ruin ★★★★½

I saw Blue Ruin shortly after reading the story of the Maine hermit, who lived for almost thirty years in remote dense forest, surviving by stealing from locals until he was caught. The question of what drives a person to such a life, as well as the details of his survival, makes for a great beginning of any number of stories. So while Dwight (Macon Blair), the protagonist of Blue Ruin, is identified by the film as a “vagrant,” I saw him more as a sort of suburban hermit, and even before the movie’s thriller plot kicks in, I was fascinated by the mystery of this quiet loner, a curiosity that the movie smartly teases out. By the time we understand what led Dwight to live away from others, I was so wrapped up in the character and Blair’s excellent performance, which requires him to communicate a great deal with few words, that I was willing to follow him wherever the story went.

While it’s better not to know much about Blue Ruin before seeing it, some of my friends compared it to the Coen brothers; I assumed this meant it was a darkly humorous thriller, and it is both dark and very funny in places, but the comparison goes deeper than that. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier shows an understanding of the brutal, physically awkward reality of violence, as well as a sense of the comedy of an already bad situation escalating because of simple things going wrong, that reminded me of Blood Simple in particular. It’s a revenge thriller with an unusually mild-mannered character at its center, and it’s smart about how one arguably justified act of violence can spiral into a senseless bloodbath. It’s grim stuff, but it’s compelling from beginning to end, and one of the best thrillers in recent memory. While Blue Ruin isn’t Saulnier’s debut feature, it’s a breakthrough, as assured and tightly constructed as films by much more experienced directors. I loved it, and I can’t wait to see what Saulnier does next.

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