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Movie review: Revenge gets tense in thriller 'Blue Ruin'

Published May 2, 2014 3:16 pm
Review • Thriller ramps up peril with surprising ease.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier manages an amazing trick in his revenge drama "Blue Ruin": He makes a thriller that feels natural and improvisational, even when you know it's so tightly plotted it will make you drive your fingernails into the armrests.

The story centers on Dwight (Macon Blair), a homeless guy who scrounges for his living on the Delaware shore. The police know him enough to know he's no threat, so when they bring him in to the station one morning, it's so they can deliver some bad news: Carl Cleland (Brent Werzner), the man who served 12 years for the murder of Dwight's parents, is getting out of prison in a few days.

Dwight springs into action, driven by revenge if not a coherent plan. He tries to get an untraceable gun, but fails. So he's only armed with a knife when he watches the Cleland family pick Carl up from prison, and then follows them to a remote roadside bar. But the knife is enough, and soon Carl is dead.

Dwight, having shaved off his scraggly beard and obtained some fresh clothes, then visits his estranged sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves). He tells Sam to get herself and her young daughters out of town, because the rest of the Cleland family will come around to take their own revenge.

The Clelands do return, and Dwight realizes his act of revenge has merely reignited an old family feud. He also learns, when he captures Carl's brother Teddy (Kevin Kolack), that he knows less about his parents' deaths than he thought. He also understands that this will end either when he's dead or the Clelands are — or both.

Dwight is a man of few words, and Saulnier doesn't have to give Blair much dialogue to explain things. Others do the talking, such as when Dwight gets some firearms advice from a high-school chum (played by Devin Ratray, one of the dim-bulb cousins in "Nebraska"). The context underlying Dwight's actions and reactions is primal, easily understandable from a few gestures.

Blair gives a taut, minimalist performance that shows the fear and grim determination behind Dwight's Everyman face. It's a restrained, economical performance that perfectly suits Saulnier's gift for ratcheting the tension under an unassuming, low-key facade.

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'Blue Ruin'

A homeless man seeks revenge, without thinking through the consequences, in this gripping thriller.

Where • Tower Theatre.

When • Opens Friday.

Rating • R for strong bloody violence, and language.

Running time • 90 minutes.

 

 


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