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From Under A Rock: Blue Ruin

March 5, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
8.4
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From Under A Rock: Blue Ruin  

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Man, revenge isn’t all that great, is it?

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Michael got to enjoy some coffee as he closed Aaron on watching Glengarry Glen Ross. This week Aaron takes Michael out from under the proverbial rock by going to war with a rival family. It’s Blue Ruin.

Blue Ruin
Released: April 25th, 2014
Written & Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier
Starring: Macon Blair as Dwight Evans

Aaron Hubbard: I feel like I’m pulling everyone out From Under A Rock this week. This isn’t some old school classic film that one of us just managed to avoid for one reason or another. Blue Ruin is a tiny independent film produced on a KickStarter Fund, but is a fascinating, visceral revenge movie that has never left my conscience from the moment I first saw it. I’ve been excited to share this movie for a while, and bring attention to a lesser known, but high quality film.

Michael Ornelas: When researching this movie, one thing that stuck out to me was just how small the budget was. The movie grossed under $1 million at the box office, and still managed to almost double its budget. What the hell are we doing with all the money that go into movies if something like this can be made for so cheap? It’s inspirational as a young filmmaker, and the movie was really interesting as well. There’s definitely a lot to take away from this viewing experience: let’s discuss!

Violence
Cycle of Violence
Aaron: The makers of this film grew up on a steady diet of revenge thrillers and always wanted to make one; however, they were also conscious of the fact that revenge is not exactly a positive idea to promote. Now, there’s certainly a place for revenge films – Django Unchained is one of my favorite movies ever made, for example. But while a movie like that spends two hours building up to a death and the audience gets to feel catharsis for a wrong being righted, it’s a skewed version of reality. Blue Ruin has the main character get his revenge (on a man who didn’t even commit the murder he’s being killed over) at the twenty minute mark, and spends the next hour dealing with the consequences. Right away too; one of the most striking visuals is Dwight’s bloodstained clothes and hands after the murder. This film goes out of it’s way to show killing isn’t something to be glorified, and I really appreciate that.

Michael: None of the shootouts in this movie seemed “cool,” none of the violence made me feel good or thrilled or excited as a viewer. I felt the very real stakes of people dying in this movie, and that was largely due to the look in Dwight’s eyes. He looks frightened and ashamed the entire time. He never gets a false bravado about him. He’s never the gun-wielding “badass” that we’re used to in revenge/action movies. He’s terrified, but he feels like killing the Clelands is the only way to feel better. He quickly learns that he’s wrong and has put his own family in even more danger. None of this is “sexy” or “Hollywood” and I appreciated that so much.

Aaron: That said, there’s certainly moments that stick with you. In a movie that was filmed and directed in a more traditional fashion, several violent moments here would have felt entirely different. The first murder is brutal, there’s some stylish headshots, and the arrow is a source of more than one nightmare I’ve had since.

Narrative
The Staying Power of Linear Narrative
Michael: While Quentin Tarantino may love reinventing structure when it comes to his storytelling (jumping around in the timeline), there’s something to be said about a story that’s presented in a completely linear fashion. When the film starts, we know nothing about backstory, but sure enough, the writer takes care of us and gives us the information when it matters. For me personally, the “why?” came a little late in the film, but I appreciate the dedication to giving expositional information in as natural a way as possible. By the end, we know the history, the future, and the grim present of this story, and it’s all given to us chronologically, one piece at a time, without needing to start at the “beginning” of the feud between families. It’s simplistic, but still stands out when executed with craft.

Aaron: I remember not being able to make much sense of this movie the first time, but that revelation explaining everything that led up to this point, as well as the extremely tense finale, compelled me to rewatch the film a few times. Which is pretty easy, with it’s 90 minute runtime. I’ve come to appreciate how this film intentionally leaves us in the dark about things, because we really don’t know what to make of Dwight and his actions. We’re used to main characters being decent people, men of action, and usually justified in whatever violent actions they have to take in the course of a narrative. But there’s something “off” about the movie that makes you question everything. I loved the last major line of this movie, where Dwight comments on the irony of how two people loving each other was the cause of so much blind hatred and violence on both sides. It really made me think about how this might have turned out if these families ever sat down and talked about what was going on instead of resorting to violence to solve their problems. Or at least going to the police.

Michael: And what’s worse is that Dwight even asked for a sit-down resolution with his kidnapped Cleland, but the tables got turned, and that guy ended up getting shot in the face. This is definitely a case of the worst possible scenario playing out. I also appreciated the fact that Dwight’s initial murder toward the start of the film was on the wrong guy. I mean, it was a Cleland, but not the actual one who murdered his parents. That level of fallibility is rarely seen in movies without having it be the entire basis of the plot. It was just a detail in this film, and contributed to feeling very “real.” I completely bought every moment of this film and that really adds to the experience.

pacing
Not Totally Ruined
Aaron: While this film definitely fascinates me, I’ve always felt a need to criticize the pacing of this film. It was very slow and there’s long stretches where it can be boring unless you are totally invested in the experience. It affected my first viewing and it affected this one as well. Now, it doesn’t ruin my opinion totally – this is first time director with very little studio input. The fact that the movie is as good as it is stands as a huge testament to everyone involved with the project. But I do feel it’s off-putting to general audiences, and the film might have benefitted from even tighter editing. Sixty or seventy minutes would have been fine. I wouldn’t complain about the short length in exchange for consistent quality. I am glad the director got to make this one film, but I hope he gets to make another one someday.

Michael: Well he has a feature with Patrick Stewart coming out later this year called Green Room, for which I recently saw the trailer and I’m intrigued by it. But I agree that there were stretches where I wasn’t nearly as invested as I felt I should have been. It was never bad, but a little fat-trimming would have ramped up the intensity of this feature exponentially.

Aaron: I’ll definitely be checking that one out. Blue Ruin is one hell of a first shot, and I’m interested to see Jeremy Saulnier grow as a director.

Ratings:
Aaron: I don’t really have a whole lot more to say about Blue Ruin, besides noting that I think the look of the film is gorgeous, especially for the budget. It’s tense, it’s gritty, it feels real, and it has some outstanding scenes that are worth getting through the slower moments to see. The ideas and themes of the film are also fairly unique in the genre of revenge films, which I think helps this stand out for me. I just can’t think of another movie quite like this, and I want more like this.

A-

Michael: This movie, at first, appeared as though it was going to dive much deeper into the psyche of a man who had committed murder, and I was fascinated by that idea. Even the fact that it was revenge was fine with me. As soon as Dwight started pursuing the rest of his rival family, however, I felt it lost its depth in that regard and instead pursued being a warring rival families movie, and I’ve seen that before. It lost a little bit of its luster from that point on (to me), but I’m still glad I saw it and would recommend it to anyone who asked about it.

B+

Aaron: The problem is, nobody’s going to ask about it. I always bring it up when I can because nobody’s heard of this one.

Michael: Their loss.

How far would you go for revenge?

Next week:

Michael: I still can’t believe you haven’t seen my next pick. I feel like I would have had to go out of my way not to see it given how prevalent it was amongst my friends and family growing up.
Office Space
Aaron: If people would stop being shocked every time I haven’t seen their personal favorite movies, that’d be greeeeaaat.

Michael: Ha. Okay, Lumbergh (You’ll get that after next week).

How many pieces of flare would you have worn?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin

Charity!
Charity
Aaron: Something that’s been on my mind over the last couple of weeks has been the “Where’s The Fair Use?” (#WTFU) movement going across YouTube and other websites. It revolves around the unfair cancellation of videos by reviewers who are using material under fair use to critique movies and other material, due to being accused of copyright infringement. As part of that movement, people have been donating to <a href=The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that has been fighting for free speech, privacy and fair use since the 1990’s. They protect our digital rights, and any money you throw their way is only going to help your best interests.

8.4
The final score: review Very Good
The 411
A passion project by independent filmmakers and funded with money from a Kickstarter, Blue Ruin is, in some ways, a success just by existing and turning a profit. But we feel it deserves more attention - it's a very solid revenge thriller with a conscience, getting into the real-life consequences of vengeance. While it does drag a bit, it's compelling enough to make up for its faults and still comes out looking strong.
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