Critics' Pick

Blue Ruin (R)

Suspense/Thriller 92 min. April 25, 2014
By Amy Nicholson
Everything in the opening scenes of Jeremy Saulnier's nerve-wracking revenge drama Blue Ruin is the color of a bruise, from the ocean to the bullet-hole-pocked 1996 Pontiac Bonneville that homeless near-mute Dwight (Macon Blair) calls home. Dwight has never overcome the pain of his parents' murder when he was a boy. On the day a local cop informs him that the murderer, Wade Cleland (Sandy Barnett), will be released from prison, Dwight reconnects the car's battery and drives south to kill him.

Immediately, writer-director Saulnier pressures us to root for the premeditated murder of a man we've never met for a crime that isn't fully revealed until the second act. As the phenomenal Blair plays him, our hero/slayer is neither magnetic nor memorable; he's used to people pretending he's invisible, and pads, ghostlike, after his prey.

Saulnier shot Blue Ruin for $38,000, much from Kickstarter donations. His lead is his best friend from sixth grade; a centerpiece showdown takes place in his mother's house. There's so little dialogue it's as though Saulnier feared he'd have to pay $1 a word. But it looks like $1 million and plays like gangbusters. It's lip-bitingly tense, not just because of what Dwight aims to do, but because we can't quite believe that this untrained wannabe can actually get it done.

The emergent villain is a gun nut (Devin Ratray) with little loyalty for keeping anyone alive. When Dwight asks him for help, he's overjoyed to pack a goodie bag of ammunition. He gets a thrill from vicarious murder. So do we -- we've bought our tickets, after all -- but boy, does Saulnier make us pay double.
Jeremy Saulnier Macon Blair, Devin Ratray, Amy Hargreaves, Kevin Kolack, Eve Plumb, David W. Thompson, Brent Weizner, Stacy Rock, Sidne Anderson Jeremy Saulnier Richard Peete, Anish Savjani Radius-TWC

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