Share story

They should have called “Blue Ruin” “Revenge of the Schlub.” A much more informative title, that. Much more on point for a story about a pasty, dumpling-faced fellow with sad, fear-filled eyes who, with terrible trepidation, sets forth to kill the man who murdered his parents.

Played by Macon Blair, the boyhood best buddy of writer-director Jeremy Saulnier, “Blue Ruin’s” main character — let no one call him hero — is a most unlikely looking avenger. We first see him, bearded and furtive, sneaking into empty houses to bathe and scrounging meals out of garbage cans. He’s homeless, broken, traumatized to near muteness by the murder of his parents. But then he’s galvanized to action when he learns the man convicted of their killings is being paroled from prison.

What’s most striking about this guy, named Dwight, are those eyes of his. With long passages of the story playing out wordlessly, it’s Dwight’s eyes that do the talking. And what they say is: “I’m afraid.” “I’m miserable.” “I don’t want to do this.” Yet he feels he must.

But this vengeance business is not for amateurs. Or the faint of heart. Dwight is both.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Things go wrong. People die. Dwight is clumsy, and bloodied, at each wrong turn of his mishandled mission.

Blair, an unheralded actor, carries the whole picture. He’s in practically every scene, and his performance is fascinating because in his eyes you can see the character struggling desperately with himself. You see, and feel, his fear with every step. You see the fear battling his doubts: “Why am I doing this?”

The determination that keeps him going is harder to detect in his eyes, but it’s there in his actions. A bad guy killed his parents. That bad guy must pay. But is the guy he’s stalking even the right bad guy? Is his vengeance misdirected?

Saulnier, working with a tiny budget partially funded through Kickstarter, directs with impressive skill. The picture is particularly gripping in scenes showing Dwight creeping soundlessly through darkened rooms, hiding from and later seeking out the bad guys.

Saulnier keeps his camera trained on the eyes of a man at war with himself. And we, the audience, can’t look away from those haunted eyes.

Soren Andersen:

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.