“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” - Confucius
What a perfect way to describe “Blue Ruin.” Let’s face it; most revenge movies are outlandish to say the least. It’s not often you find a movie within this genre that is brutally honest about any revenge story. Blue Ruin draws quite a bit of inspiration from classic family feuds such as the Hatfields & McCoys (especially considering the setting is Kentucky & Virginia) and takes an honest look at the pointlessness of revenge and the far too simple means of carrying it out in our society.
Even though this is a family vs family sort of thing, we are dealing with a limited story involving Dwight Evans, a man with no purpose in life until he finds one in the form of avenging his parents’ death when their killer is released from jail. Dwight doesn’t exactly have a “particular set of skills” that makes him cut out for the job like other revenge movie protagonists. This, in addition to fantastic directing by Jeremy Saulnier, adds to the tension in every scene where Dwight must fight off the Clelands. Even one-on-one, he’s in over his head with any of them, so we are never sure how he’s going to escape any scenario. Everything about Dwight’s journey was strangely relatable because he was just “a guy.” He couldn’t sew his own leg up b/c that’s something that maybe one in a million people could ever do. He couldn’t shoot a gun either. He was an everyman through and through.
Dwight is an outsider in this world he’s stepped into, and we are discovering how it works with him. The only funny line of the movie comes at the expense of Dwight’s ignorance when he tells Teddy he’ll let him out when he finds a gun and Teddy, almost puzzled, tells Dwight he can get him a gun no problem. It’s this reaction that gives the audience an idea of what world we’re in. Dwight’s interactions with Ben involving getting a gun were particularly interest. Ben gives him a carbine b/c he got it from a gun show and there are no papers involved. Realizing Dwight cannot shoot, Ben switches him to a buckshot rifle. The Clelands have a comical number of guns, and despite getting two days to clean the house top to bottom, Dwight doesn’t find them all. It’s the Second Amendment taken to its illogical extreme to say the least.
Couple the access to firearms with the type of people we’re dealing with here. The Hatfields & McCoys are a strange and fascinating piece of American history. The bulk of the settlers in the Cumberland Gap region, which includes the two famous families, are descendants of Anglo-Saxon farmers from Scotland, England, and Ireland. They are a notoriously prideful people, willing to settle disagreements amongst themselves. The Clelands are very much patterned off this template. Their motivation is solely that of their pride. It isn’t terribly different from the gangland battles we discussed in The Warriors or Boyz N The Hood.
In the end, Dwight “succeeds” in enacting his revenge, but even he recognizes the futility of his endeavor. There isn’t much dialogue in this movie, but many lines were affecting and cast a damning light on all the proceedings. From Sam calling Dwight “weak” in their final interaction to Dwight lamenting the fate of himself and the Clelands due to their parents’ infidelity, the dialogue is sparse and affecting. Truth be told, some of it felt a little too on the nose.
Dwight is a character I have mixed feelings about. For the most part, I just feel bad for him. Macon Blair did an excellent job portraying Dwight as a regular guy in way over his head, clearly having no idea what was going to happen next. He entered a world he didn’t understand and was in no way ready for it, and he survived as long as he did by the grace of God or his friend Ben. The audience winds up rooting for Dwight as an underdog out for justice. He rightfully has no faith in the system and comes to the conclusion that vigilantism is his only choice. It’s a sad commentary that Dwight comes from a place where this thinking is not only acceptable, but almost expected. We hear it in Dwight’s voice at the end, resigned to his fate that this was the only outcome. Who’s at fault here? The justice system? The culture of violence that permeates the region? These ease of access to an arsenal so vast it would make The Bullet Farmer from Mad Max blush? In the end, it seems the answer is “all of the above.”
Blue Ruin is an excellent movie that gives a grim commentary on justice and vengeance in the outer fringes of our society. You could argue it’s punishingly grim, almost to a fault. Dwight’s tale of revenge is not fun or satisfying like many other revenge stories. It’s what probably actually happens when a man seeks revenge. Well done on a realistic take on a genre that sorely lacks it.
+ Unique revenge story spin
+ Good draws from society and history
+ Macon Blair makes Dwight a sympathetic figure
+ Excellent directing by Saulnier builds tension
- Punishingly bleak