Staff Pick: Bloody “Blue Ruin” shows what an indie can do

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From the May 1, 2014 edition

Fun independent film fact of the week: For the reported cost of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” you could make “Blue Ruin” 600 times. And it would be worth it.

For $425,000 (a portion raised via Kickstarter), filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier has crafted one of the most tense thrillers I’ve seen in a long time. And the look and performances of the film stand the test among movies with far larger Hollywood bankrolls.

“Blue Ruin” is a noir-soaked vigilante justice tale that uses graphic violence and black humor as punctuation. Fans of the darker side of the Coen Brothers (“Blood Simple,” “No Country for Old Men”) and Quentin Tarantino should take note.

When we meet Dwight (Macon Blair), things aren’t looking so good. He’s sporting a wild-man beard and living out of his beat-up old car. Then he gets news about a man’s upcoming release from prison.

Much of the joy is in the unexpected here, but suffice it to say unassuming Dwight sets out on a path of revenge. And there will be blood.

One of the truly great things about indie cinema is that the smaller scope makes a true auteur vision more attainable. Saulnier served as writer/director/cinematographer for “Blue Ruin.” Of course, Tommy Wiseau also wore multiple hats for “The Room,” so it doesn’t always work out, but still.

What sets “Blue Ruin” apart from the revenge flick pack is its protagonist. Dwight has the motivation for murder, if not necessarily the skill set. Even through the ragged beard, he seems less than menacing or competent. (If you want another reference point, think a really, really dark “Bottle Rocket.”)

Saulnier not only creates a great character in Dwight — and gets a fantastic performance from Blair as the lead — he spins a gleefully complex web of consequences. Be warned if you’re squeamish, some of those consequences are pretty brutal.

As events unfold, there’s a real feel for a world that exists offscreen. Details of the past come in and out of focus during a drum-tight 90 minutes. “Blue Ruin” shows the big boys how the indies do it.

Photo courtesy of Radius-TWC