The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Blue Ruin

The first thing we see in Blue Ruin is a scraggly-looking man in a bathtub. He hears a noise and promptly crawls out of the tub, then jumps out a window naked. This is not his house. That man is Dwight (Macon Blair), and he's badly broken. Scavenging for food in boardwalk garbage cans, returning recycling for spare change, and sleeping in a rundown car, he has clearly hit rock bottom. A cop locates him and takes him back to the police station, where she delivers some devastating news. The man who killed his parents back in 1993 is about to be released from prison. This sets in motion a revenge scheme that grows wildly out of control.

How much is too much to say about a film like this? Probably saying anything is too much. We'll put it this way: Dwight learns that a simple act of revenge is far more difficult than it seems, since the man he's seeking revenge against comes from a family of very protective members who will defend one another at all costs. At least Dwight has an old high school friend, Ben (Devin Ratray), to offer him some advice.

Most revenge movies follow a certain template. You have a hero (or, more accurately, antihero) who spends a big chunk of the movie trying to track down the villain, followed by a bloody confrontation at the end. Blue Ruin avoids this template at almost every turn. Dwight and his nemesis come face-to-face very early on in the film, and from there, the story proceeds to offer one surprise after another. Sometimes we think Dwight's quest is essentially over, only to have some unexpected wrinkle thrown in. Other times it seems as though he might be a goner, but he finds some way out of a predicament. From minute to minute, you never know where Blue Ruin is going to take you.

Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier cranks up the tension to almost unbearable levels, emphasizing the grave danger Dwight is perpetually in from the moment he makes a crucial mistake in a dive bar. The character can't fight, can't shoot, and yet is trying to take on a group of people who can do both of those things quite well. Every shot Saulnier crafts makes you aware of the fact that he's in over his head. At the same time, the screenplay has such a strong human element that Blue Ruin becomes much more than just a revenge flick. It's about personal damage, the way Dwight was so overcome with grief about his parents' murder that his life went to seed, and stayed that way. Twenty years of living with that grief has turned him desperate, so that when he sees a chance to make someone else pay for his unhappiness, he takes it, despite the fact that we can see he's a gentle soul. Blue Ruin ultimately isn't so much about whether he gets revenge as it is about whether or not he can maintain his humanity in seeking it.

Macon Blair gives a first-rate performance as Dwight, doing the exact opposite of what macho action heroes do in revenge flicks. Rather than tossing off one-liners or acting like a badass, Dwight is scared to death at every single second, yet also just brave enough to keep going. Blair conveys all the pain behind Dwight's actions, in addition to the resignation that he's in over his head and probably headed for doom. This is one of the best performances any actor will give this year.

Blue Ruin is beautifully, atmospherically photographed, and edited in such a manner as to continually create hold-your-breath moments of suspense. It's a quiet, deliberately paced story, and Saulnier's willingness to not overdo it is what gives the movie its immense power. Blue Ruin redefines the revenge picture, showing that the turmoil inside a damaged central character is far more engrossing than any acts of violence that may be committed in the name of getting even.

( 1/2 out of four)

Blue Ruin is rated PG-13 for strong bloody violence, and language. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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