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Fantastic Fest 2013: Nordling Reviews BLUE RUIN!

Published at: Sept. 24, 2013, 6:23 p.m. CST

Nordling here.

Dwight (Macon Blair) lives on the street, eating out of garbage cans, living in his blue Bonneville, occasionally breaking into houses to use the shower.  His existence is based on one day to the next.  He doesn't speak, has no ambitions to find a better life.  He has been utterly destroyed by his past, a past that he ran away from some years ago.  One morning, Dwight is brought into the police station, but not to be arrested; Dwight is informed that one Wade Cleland has been released from prison.  This new information spurs Dwight into action, and it would be unfair at this point to reveal more of the plot of BLUE RUIN, Jeremy Saulnier's phenomenal revenge fable.

Every year, there's a film that wins Fantastic Fest for me, and while there isn't a clear winner yet, amongst so many great films, BLUE RUIN is certainly in the running.  For one, the performance by Macon Blair deserves as many accolades that can be heaped upon it; his Dwight is a tortured, haunted man and Blair puts it behind the eyes.  It becomes clear that Dwight is driven by something larger than himself, and even through his regret and sadness Dwight must see his task through to the end.  For long stretches of BLUE RUIN, Dwight barely speaks, but Blair puts such a presence in his work that he captivates the audience every moment he is onscreen.  You should remember the name, because although he's no newcomer (he worked in Jeremy Saulnier's previous film, MURDER PARTY), this performance should hopefully thrust him into bigger and better roles.

Jeremy Saulnier's direction is confident and he slowly tightens the vise as we lean more about Dwight and his situation.  Most films in this genre explore the whys of revenge, but Saulnier goes into the hows.  Just procuring a gun is difficult for Dwight, and we see through his actions that there once was a vestige of a person inside him, but now he is broken, perhaps beyond repair.  Blair makes us feel real empathy for Dwight, and you wonder what kind of man he would have been had the circumstances of his past hadn't defeated him.  The script wisely holds its cards throughout, revealing only what we need to know when we need to know it.  The result is that as every moment passes we become much more invested.

When the violence happens, it's brief but cathartic, and Saulnier shoots it with brutal effectiveness.  He also gets terrific performances out of the rest of the cast, especially Amy Hargreaves as Dwight's sister Sam and Devin Ratray as Dwight's high school chum Ben.  Sam views Dwight with a slow contempt mixed with love, while Ben wants to help out his friend any way he can but barely recognizes what he has become.  Saulnier and his crew used Kickstarter to get completion funds for the movie, but the final film looks gorgeous and brilliantly shot by Saulnier.  Saulnier is a hell of a storyteller - his direction, his screenplay, and his cinematography for BLUE RUIN make him someone to pay attention to.

There's an inevitability and a sadness to BLUE RUIN that is difficult to shake, and while you can see the path that Dwight walks down, the movie has enough twists to keep audiences guessing throughout.  BLUE RUIN is a brutal, cold movie, but it's not a detached experience.  Macon Blair's performance doesn't let us off the hook, and we feel complicit in his need for vengeance.  Anchored by an extraordinary performance by Blair, full of stunning directing and writing, and deeply emotional and resonant, BLUE RUIN is a movie that deserves to be talked about and seen.  It's always a treat to see a film and know that you're seeing the birth of a singularly great director and actor, and BLUE RUIN should just be the beginning of some amazing work by Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair.  Make sure you see this when it opens next year.

Nordling, out.

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