May 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Blue Ruin's' bumbling bum swept up in Southern mayhem

Macon Blair stars as an amateur assassin who winds up in a brutal fight to protect his estranged family in 'Blue Ruin.' (Sundance Institute)

It’s rare when art house style and talent intersect with blood-red violent fare. The Coen brothers have been seen in that vicinity, as has Quentin Tarantino, but usually a film tilts either to gore or pretentiousness.

Not so with “Blue Ruin,” a riveting revenge thriller written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier and built around a singular performance by Macon Blair. Saulnier isn’t trying to crack open the mysteries of life here, but he is exploring the vulnerability of character and the roots of resignation.

Blair plays Dwight, a derelict sleeping in his ravaged blue Pontiac on a Delaware beach as the film opens, eating food found in trash cans, taking baths in strangers’ homes, his owlish little face surrounded by a great unshorn mane and beard.

But then he finds out a man is being released from prison and drives the Pontiac home to Virginia. Along the way, he clumsily steals a gun, which he manages to break. Even though Saulnier works virtually without dialogue for the film’s opening 20 minutes, the point is made: Dwight is one wholly incompetent criminal.

Which doesn’t keep him from stirring up a serious blood feud in his hometown, one that quickly endangers his estranged sister and her children. Soon enough, meek Dwight — who seems afraid of his own voice, much less a family of killers — is dragging dead bodies, pulling an arrow out of his leg and wielding a shotgun.

But the key here is Dwight never transforms into a cool killing machine. He’s a nervous twerp caught up in grisly circumstance, in way over his head. Blair makes Dwight’s powerlessness both uneasy and chillingly familiar. He’s drowning from the beginning, and he knows it.

'Blue Ruin'

GRADE: B+

Rated R for strong, bloody violence and language

Running time: 90 minutes

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