The white picket fences and horse ranches beckoned Sterling Hayden in the Asphalt Jungle. Salvation from the cruel grime of city life. Those picket fences and horse farms make a brief appearance in Blue Ruin. Although they show up in the middle of the feature, and instead of offering a glimpse of the promised land it’s only a brief peak at sanity. Dwight (Macon Blair) has a fresh corpse in the trunk, the second Cleland boy he’s killed since returning to his hometown to avenge the murder of his parents.
The first was Wade Cleland. News of his imminent release from prison snapped Dwight out of his stupor as a beach bum in Delaware. With a newfound determination he gets his blue Pontiac into a working state and drives straight to the Virginia prison in time to see Wade become a free man, walking into the adoring arms of his family and into a white limousine.
Dwight proves inept at acquiring a gun, so he instead uses a pocket knife. He stalks the Clelands down to a roadside restaurant, closed in celebration for Wade’s release. Dwight sneaks in through a kitchen door. He camps out in the men’s room. Eventually Wade comes in. Dwight attacks immediately, somehow managing to dig his knife deep into Wade’s temple. All that’s needed is to escape.
From the parking lot Dwight can hear the Clelands discover Wade’s corpse, but he discovers to his horror that Wade managed to knock the Pontiac’s car keys off in their struggle. Dwight has to escape in the limousine. He immediately realizes that the Clelands will seek revenge for Wade, and will be able to trace the Pontiac back to Dwight’s sister.
Macon Blair is a great find in the lead role. With his huge eyes and sunk chin he resembles Joe Lo Truglio (Brooklyn Nine Nine; Superbad) but playing for a profound sadness rather than any humor.
Blue Ruin makes excellent use of its Mid Atlantic setting in suburban Virginia. Its a corner of the country where upper middle class suburbs and Appalachia blend into each other and citizens aspire to represent both. Likewise the conflict that begins as simple revenge spills into a Hatfield/McCoy bloodbath between rival clans joined through infidelity.
I heard of the film in relation to the Coen’s Blood Simple. Both get mileage out of how a straightforward act of murder expands spirals further and further out of control. Blue Ruin doesn’t have Barry Sonnenfeld’s lyrical cinematography, but its visuals are quite fine for the digital era.