European thieves encounter the grandeur of China in a fight for its life.
Directed by Zhang Yimou
Starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, and Tian Jang
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Zhang Yimou’s first English-language film sparked a lot of misguided controversy about the presence of Matt Damon in a fantasy film fought along The Great Wall of China. Here’s another white savior who’ll bring technology and advanced tactics to a non-white civilization while hundreds of Chinese extras are killed just out of frame. Those that prematurely complained should have done their homework, because Yimou’s reputation is that of the Chinese equivalent of Michael Bay. While both are sometimes blisteringly critical of their respective governments, they still work hand in hand with the seats of power. Just as Bay needs Pentagon approval to include all that authentic gear in his militaristic films, Yimou needs the approval of the Chinese government to get his films released in Chinese theaters. The Politburo’s not about to sign off on a film that devalues their ancient nation’s culture and innovation. Viewed through the lens of a Bay-sian exercise in nationalism, The Great Wall isn’t as easily dismissed. If the USA can have their jingoistic action romps and export them around the world, why can’t China?
Based on the novel Leave No Trace by Hannah Nyala West (I wonder if it’s any better), Heatstroke is, well, it’s a movie. The feature film debut of Game of Throne’s Maisie Williams falls pretty flat. A comment earlier from the Facebook page describes the movie as Arya Stark running from poachers in the desert. With this being part of the plotline, it’s a safe bet to say that winter is definitely not coming in this one.
At the heart of Sicario is a complicated question: What is victory in the face of an unwinnable war? Is it the small wins that serve as a beacon of hope to spread from this epicenter? Or is it in the very understanding that the war cannot be won, but a more favorable outcome can be achieved? This serves as the central conflict between the idealistic FBI agent Kate and the ever-pragmatic CIA agent Matt and is the driving force behind the action of Sicario.
Much of the first act is spent setting up this world, giving the audience an understanding of the dire straits border towns are in. The proxy for the viewer is Kate, an FBI agent in the kidnap rescue division. Opening with a tactical mission for her team immediately gives us the impression that Kate is no pushover when she makes it into Juarez, which is where our story begins in earnest. Right from the opening aerial shot over serene El Paso & dilapidated Juarez, we know we’re dealing with two different worlds here. The sounds of Juarez as the task force drives through are littered with gunfire. Multiple bodies, decapitated, hang from a bridge. Yet, we see the townspeople go about their business in the meantime. This is commonplace, and that jarring juxtaposition of people playing games while the bullets fly is just another day in Juarez, or any other border town that has become a nexus for drug trafficking. That point is further driven home by the shootout on the bridge, which “won’t even make the papers in El Paso.” Kate and the viewer now know this is the war we are dealing with.
Initial Review by Phil
“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
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.