Director Jeremy Saulnier has some fun with revenge-thriller clichés and creates a few twists of his own with Blue Ruin, a darkly funny, sometimes quite disturbing showcase for actor Macon Blair.
Blair plays Dwight, a homeless man we first see living a meager life in Delaware. He takes baths in other people's houses, gets his meals from trash bags and lives in his car. In its opening moments, Blue Ruin seems as if it will just be an interesting case study of a dude trying to survive by cashing in soda bottles and eating discarded hamburgers.
Then, about five minutes into the movie, a policewoman knocks on Dwight's car window.
No, Dwight isn't getting hauled in for vagrancy. It turns out the policewoman is just doing her duty by informing him that the man who allegedly killed his parents is being released early from prison.
This sets into motion a revenge story like no other, where a hairy homeless guy returns to his childhood home and makes a bunch of people wish they had different last names.
Dwight, as if he's always seen this day coming, gases up his old Bonneville, hooks up the battery and heads for Virginia on a mission of vengeance. Things get mighty bloody from the moment Dwight crashes a welcome home party through to the film's ending, which involves actress Eve Plumb, aka Jan Brady of The Brady Bunch.
Blair, who physically transforms in the movie after a shower and shave, is not your average movie revenge killer. He's lost a big chunk of his communications skills since going into hiding after his parent's death, as evidenced in a diner sit-down with his estranged sister (Amy Hargreaves in a brief but powerful performance). Incidentally, there's a moment in the diner scene that will make you think twice the next time you ask to borrow ketchup or sugar from somebody at a nearby table.
Dwight is determined to protect his sister and her children, and will go to all extremes to do so. Even with his death mission, Dwight remains as meek as can be. He even manages to be somewhat polite when he has a gun trained on a family enemy in the open trunk of his Bonneville.
That Bonneville trunk moment is the film's highlight. It's a great scene featuring stellar work from Kevin Kolack, giving his character a cool, slimy demeanor in the face of certain death. Blair and Kolack absolutely kill in this moment. I'm hoping somebody signs them up for another movie together.
Showing up late in the movie as Ben, a helpful old high school buddy with a convenient gun arsenal, is Devin Ratray. Ratray had a memorable and funny role in Nebraska, a feat he repeats in this film. It's in these moments that we get our biggest hints of what Dwight might've been like before tragedy struck his family and he cut himself off from society. He's not a barrel of laughs with Ben, but he's very much at ease with him, more so than with anybody else in the film.
Saulnier does a lot with a small budget, shooting a solid-looking movie with some pretty heavy gore effects. No, the movie isn't wall-to-wall bloodletting, but the moments where the blood sprays are quite impactful. There's one particular moment where somebody takes a bullet to the jaw that I won't soon forget.
With Dwight, Blair gives us an original, vengeful character to go alongside the likes of Uma Thurman's Bride in the Kill Bill movies and Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs. He's unforgettable, and just a little heartbreaking in the end.