Category Archives: Independent

“There Will Be Blood” Movie Review

So recently, actor Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he was done with the film industry and will spend the rest of his life in private with his family. I absolutely respect this decision of his, but please don’t actually give up acting. You’re amazing at it. This epic historical drama was released during the height of award season in 2007, garnering more critical and commercial success than most independent films. Paul Thomas Anderson’s modern classic also earned 8 Academy Award nominations and is considered by many critics film scholars to be one of the best films from the 2000’s. Based on the novel Oil! by Upton Sinclair, we follow Daniel Plainview, a man in the San Fernando Valley who begins exploiting the rich amount of oil beneath the surface of the land. As the R-rated narrative moves from the late 19th into the early 20th century, his lust for more of this resource grows and grows, even when some meager competition gets in the way. But he won’t let them compromise anything for him. Many of Anderson’s trademark filmmaking styles are present here, as well as some differentiations. He directs the drama beautifully and confidently, as most of the cast seems to be made up of actors or actresses who know what they’re doing. And as good as Boogie Nights and Magnolia were, I would say that not only is this his most accessible film to date, but also his best. And this is coming from someone who enjoyed both Magnolia and Boogie Nights immensely. At the forefront of everything in this film is Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance, which may just be one of the best ever put to celluloid. Masterful and wholesome in every sense, his character is an interesting one. Plainview is someone you should normally hate but can’t help understand and want to see him succeed in his endeavors. When remarking on his ruthlessness and cunning intellect, he remarks to a comrade, “I see the worst in people. I don’t need to look past seeing them to get all I need.” It’s no surprise that P.T. Anderson had written the part specifically with him in mind. In a duel role, the underrated but versatile Paul Dano plays two brothers both seeking a profit off the main protagonist’s petroleum ventures. One’s a carful-minded pragmatist wishing to benefit just for the sake of it, another is a devout pastor desperate to keep preaching his beliefs by acquiring the funds necessary to do so. Even as far as religious fanatics go, this guy was borderline unlikable. Note: The fact that Eli was this awful possibly made Daniel Plainview even more of a likable character than he had any right to be. But there are some that believe that without Day-Lewis’ phenomenal performance, the rest of the movie isn’t that good. I respectfully disagree, as there is enough brilliance behind the camera to match what is happening onscreen. Very few movies of the 21st century have attained the amount of technical mastery that Paul Thomas Anderson assembles here. One of the most notable attributes of There Will Be Blood is that of the cinematography by Robert Elswitt, which also nabbed an Academy Award. Many intimate conversations are characterized by focused close-up shots of the character most pivotal in that scenario. Even when someone else is talking, the camera refuses to cut or pan away from the primary subject, allowing us to get a better sense of closeness to these individuals. These harsh close-ups are contrasted by anamorphic wide shots of the gorgeous and vast frontier waiting to be dried up of oil. One of the most memorable sequences occurs near the end of the first act when Plainview discovers a whole ocean worth of oil beneath one of his large mines. As it continues to erupt from the late afternoon into the dark evening, a fire is lit near the top of it all. You see him as well as all of his employees drenched in black oil and soot as well as a beautiful coloring of orange firelight. Meanwhile, former Radiohead lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood composes the musical score for this film, making this the first in five movies he has collaborated with Paul Thomas Anderson. Although it uses a lot of preexisting material, there is still quite a bit of new stuff to gouge down on. Often it’s just little bits of ambient strings that heighten the tension of a scene or when various percussion instruments are banged together in a cacophonic manner that is as raucous as it is poetic. In the vein of all his other work, though, There Will Be Blood is much more than just an excuse for Anderson to direct someone in a way that might earn them an Oscar. Much like a strip of barren land in Southern California, there is a lot of precious stuff to appreciate and dig for underneath the surface. In this case, we see the ideas of American capitalism and natural greed deconstructed to their very cores. During this period, some Americans had idolized Titans in this industry such as John D. Rockefeller. But this film does its very best to illustrate that these “heroes” at the turn of the century were anything but considerate, let alone worth idolizing. With Daniel Plainview’s ambitions and lust for wealth growing ever so much, he becomes more disconnected from everyone around him, thus making him more ruthless and dangerous. Similarly, Eli is so dead-set on acquiring this oil that he uses any justification, including and especially religion, to get it. There Will Be Blood is a believable meditation on greed with one stunning performance at the center of it all. It’s a damn shame that Daniel Day-Lewis has retired from acting because there really is no other thespian like him in the industry. May he enjoy his days in peace.

Image result for there will be blood poster

“Blue Velvet” Movie Review

Hmm… I’m not quite sure if I should love this movie for challenging me to think or hate it for leaving me unsatisfied. I guess I should write a review and see what comes up from it. This off-kilter erotic mystery thriller came out in September of 1986, where it barely turned a profit on its $6 million budget and garnered initially mixed reviews. Eventually, writer-director David Lynch’s 4th theatrical feature film gained great critical acclaim and analysis in the years that followed- though it was still famously hated by critic Roger Ebert even after revisiting it. The plot is a mystery where Kyle MacLachlan plays a perve who, through a series of circumstances, gets wrapped up in a plot of sadomasochism and murder involving a night club singer and a really demented gangster. I call him a perve because what other kinds of person would hide in a woman’s closet and then return the following nights to have sex with them? This actually happened in the movie. Twice. Look, I get it. David Lynch is an absurdly creative talent with an eye for the visually and narratively strange. In fact, he often embraces that weirdness with open arms to wrap around the audience. But sometimes, he just gets so caught up in his amount of weirdness that it becomes rather hard to enjoy his movies. Take Blue Velvet, for example. To be clear, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad film. In fact, there are moments of Blue Velvet that are genuinely entertaining and watchable, particularly when it gets into the noir elements. Lynch has always been a master at that level of storytelling with the cult classic show Twin Peaks and his later film Mulholland Drive, both of which I adored. And the performances are alright from the main actors, but let’s be real. The only truly great actor here is the late, great Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth. This is basically the movie that relaunched his dormant career with his surprising turn as an unpredictable if outrageous villain. It’s always fascinating when a movie has a hidden meaning or message underneath the surface, as it can often time warrant watching the film a few more times to soak in everything that needs to be. David Lynch himself has professed that his art is meant to be interpreted freely by the viewers. And the ideas that Blue Velvet brings to life are pretty interesting. But more like his first feature Eraserhead, this film became so obsessed with what it was trying to say that it virtually eliminates the need for a rewatch. My politics being my own private business, I tried to watch this movie without any feeling of demoralization or anger. But truth be told, this movie really got under my skin early on. The level of sadomasochism and sexual pleasure these characters take in is not very believable and borderline unrealistic. To be fair, Lynch has always gotten close to the surreal and blending fantasy with reality. But here, Blue Velvet seems so determined to make Isabella Rossellini as abused as possible and make her ask for even more from a totally innocent man. Considering the amount of press that feminism has gained recently, it’s arguable that this may be Lynch’s most dated movie out of his whole catalog. When sitting down to watch a film by David Lynch, there are usually a set of expectations I set for it: a completely self-absorbed, overly-indulgent showcase of thematic fingerpaintings featuring good actors playing unrealistic characters. Not everything in a movie has to be realistic. I mean, shit, some of my favorite movies are in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. And with Blue Velvet, it’s not quite as much of a fantasy as Mulholland Drive, but it was a bit better than I had expected it to be. If you like serious films with interesting messages, then definitely check it out. Others may be off-put by its excessive weirdness. But this is not conventional filmmaking in the slightest. I’ve already established that about David Lynch. He thrives off of the refusal of formula or convention. I like Blue Velvet and I don’t like it at the same time. It’s as simple as that. It’s a fascinating if a somewhat pretentious portrait of suburban lust that’s just not worth watching too many times. Maybe twice, but that’s about it.

Related image

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Movie Review

And this is how to make a movie that is truly deserving of Best Picture. This provocative drama from director Milos Forman and producer Michael Douglas was released by United Artists on November 9th, 1975, earning back over $100 million on a small budget of $4.4 million total. Today, it is rated as the 16th greatest movie of all time on IMDb and listed as one of the late Roger Ebert’s favorite films. Based on the controversial novel by Ken Kesey- who apparently hated the finished product –One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest recounts the story of Randle McMurphy, an ex-con who transfers to a mental hospital in order to avoid more jail time. Once there, he falls into a trance when he’s introduced to a system where patients are heavily medicated, physically abused, and treated with almost no empathy. He begins to encourage the suppressed patients to fight back against Nurse Ratched’s tyrannical, bullying rule. Recently, I read the book this film was based on as part of a course examining the most challenged novels in American literature. And yes, there are many moments where artistic license is taken with the source material by screenwriters Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, particularly of the point-of-view with the story. But I’m not here to nitpick the differences in the adaptation, I’m here to dissect this simply as a movie on its own. And on its own, this has to be one of the best pictures released in the 1970’s. In the performance that launched his storied career, Jack Nicholson is absolutely electrifying as Randle McMurphy. This basically set the groundwork for all of his crazy roles to follow, from the Joker to Frank Costello. But none were as memorable or arguably as likable as his work in this film. Slightly older than him, Louise Fletcher is completely heartless and uncaring as Nurse Ratched. Male or female, she has to be one of the most despicable characters in film history. Her rule emulates that of any infamous world dictator, manipulating every patient and staff member with careful words. The film also features early roles from Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and an Oscar-nominated performance from Brad Dourif as a stuttering man-child. Will Sampson as Chief Bromden, the narrator of the original book, is also worth noting. His captivating portrayal of a deaf-mute is a unique depiction of modern Native Americans and remains one of the most memorable fictional ones on the celluloid. Although sparsely present, what there is of Jack Nitzche’s score is beautiful. The film opens and ends on the same track with steady percussion and a high voice, punctuated by goosebump-inducing strings. It’s the kind of soundtrack that gives one hope for their lives and makes you want to live life to the fullest; the primary theme of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The camera work by Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler is rather dry. Often the action will be shown in short cuts of editing. Other times it will keep on one shot to emulate the feeling that we truly are inside this mental hospital. Such a moment occurs late in the picture when after a large celebration, the camera focuses in on Randle. He’s not partying, not monologuing about his past. Just a static shot of him drinking a beer while sitting down, silently smiling at his accomplishments. It is this silent simplicity that helps give this film its advantage and likability. But that doesn’t mean that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is always fun and lighthearted. There are some moments that are so powerful that you can hardly finish. The actors and extras did a supreme job at making the environment as realistic as possible. But the portrayal of mental illness, and of the authority that tries to exploit it, is so raw and unpretentious that it sometimes borders on hard-to-watch. From challenged patients who refuse to take their medication to electroshock therapy for those who resist, the movie pulls almost no punches. Which is probably why it went on to win the Big Five Oscars. These were Academy Awards for Best Actor, Actress, Screenplay, Director, and Picture. One of the rarest feats in the Academy’s history, to win all of these categories in one night is a truly astonishing achievement. And this is a film that really did earn all of it. It also has an ending that can make you feel teary-eyed from both sadness and joy. All I can say is that you will have the feel the feeling of you were graduating. With unforgettable characters, realistic dialogue, fantastic performances and a great sense of dark optimism, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is an uncompromising and captivating look at standing up to your oppressors. It may not quite be perfect as a whole, but the smaller moments are the ones that truly make it what it is. It is hard to watch sometimes and to rewatch but it’s absolutely worth it to get a better understanding of mental illness and the will to survive in the face of adversity.

Image result for one flew over the cuckoo's nest

“Colossal” Movie Review

And I thought that kaiju monster movies were done and finished these days. Guess I was wrong on that count. This sci-fi romantic comedy-drama was had a lengthy festival run from Toronto to Sundance before garnering a limited release on April 7th, 2017. The $15 million production is the first official theatrical release for the newly formed distributor, NEON. And they remind me of Pixar because there’s a hilarious short film that plays just before this one. Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, a struggling alcoholic who is dumped and kicked out of her New York apartment by her ex-boyfriend. After moving back to her small hometown in the Midwest, she discovers that she has a strange psychological connection with a massive kaiju that is attacking Seoul. With that premise alone, you already know that this is going to be a very tongue-in-cheek tribute to old monster movies, specifically the early years of the Godzilla franchise. And writer-director Nacho Vigalondo certainly throws his audience a figurative bone every now and again. But for the most part, he focuses on the characters and the story. During the opening 20 minutes of this film, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of it yet because some of the writing felt a bit rushed and uneven. But as soon as the kaiju started attacking Seoul, I was treated to some pretty entertaining stuff. Anne Hathaway started her career in romantic comedies before she transitioned to big-budget Hollywood films and serious dramas. This felt like a happy medium for her, going back to her roots while still retaining her current (and totally attractive) image. Her awkward nature matches her character’s down-to-Earth personality and absolutely weird condition and set of circumstances. However, for a while, her utter beauty made it hard to buy her as an alcoholic. Supporting players include Tim Blake Nelson, Austin Stowell, and Downton Abbey‘s own Dan Stevens all of whom do a respectable job. However, Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis is a total scene-stealer in this film. He begins as his regular, funny self, giving the impression of that guy you would love to hang out with at the park. But soon, he turns a complete 180 and becomes a menacing creep who is unfulfilled by his standing in his small, inconsequential life. But his transition in character felt extremely jarring and conflicting with the tone that was set up at the beginning. The tone of the story is easily the biggest problem with Colossal, as it felt very inconsistent. In fact, I would blame the marketing because it’s not as funny as the trailer suggests. There are some scenes that will make the audience laugh out loud, for sure. But the opening 20 minutes are a little misleading as to what kind of movie you’re really in for. And the psychic monster aspects were far more interesting and memorable than the romantic-comedy it sets itself out as at the beginning of the film. Think of it as something like several pieces of a pie that are pretty good, but not one whole pie that is just great. On the topic of the monster, the visual effects are rather impressive for a relatively low-budget film like this one. The fact that he doesn’t appear onscreen too often is probably the reason why, as focusing on him too much would have likely not turned out well at all. Indeed, the majority of the 110-minute film is spent in the bar of this small town, where the main characters converse either on the events unfolding on television or just whatever comes to their mind. In that, Vigalondo has written the movie pretty and rather realistically, at least given the circumstances given. Underneath all of the laugh-induced drinking and far away city destruction, however, Colossal is a story about escaping abusive relationships. Much like last year’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, the main character in this movie, Gloria, finds herself between a rock and a hard place. Her previous boyfriend didn’t work out at all and the new one she finds is less than cooperative, especially after he discovers her strange connection to the kaiju in Seoul. The monster must be a metaphor for her self-empowerment getting a personification. As she learns to control the monster more, she starts growing more confident in herself. The meaning of it all shouldn’t be overlooked, especially with recent developments in the news. There is an actual musical score in this film, provided by the prolific, if underrated Bear McCreary. He foregoes the moody and grim leitmotifs from his work on shows like The Walking Dead and the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica and instead goes for something a little more grand in scale. Full-fled orchestras sound off during the final act when all the pieces start coming together. And boy, what a finale that was. Colossal may be a little too ambitious for its own good and underwhelming at times, but it’s the original concept and Anne Hathaway’s lead performance that elevate it above mediocrity. While it’s certainly not a movie for everyone, it promises great things for the future of Nacho Vigalondo. And NEON.

Image result for colossal

“Sophie’s Choice” Movie Review

And we all thought that there was no way Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins could be matched in performance. Released in the fall of 1982, this drama received both critical and commercial success just in time for awards season. After leaving his small-town home in the South, aspiring novelist Stingo moves into a shared boarding house in Brooklyn in 1947. Soon after settling in, he meets his upstairs neighbors, Polish immigrant Sophie Zawistowski and pharmaceutical worker Nathan Landau. While they immediately become the best of friends, Sophie and Stingo must brave Nathan’s emotionally tempestuous behavior and violent mood swings. It’s only a matter of time before Sophie trusts Stingo enough to share her harrowing experiences in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. As the synopsis suggests, Stingo acts as our primary point of view for much of the runtime. A young man in his 20’s, his inexperience in the large city of New York, and his desire to understand human love allows the audience to relate to him in his struggles. When he discovers new locations across the city, it’s as if we’re walking in his shoes, seeing what he sees, learning what he learns. The city is a massively scary place for someone of small town background like Stingo, almost as if it wants to suck you in and never let you leave. The desired effect worked well for the most part. That being said, it felt as though the scope was very restricted. Most of the turbulent scenes are told inside of the characters’ boarding house, only one floor apart from each other. In that, it sometimes felt more like a stage play on Broadway, with nondescript locations and a plot that mostly develops from various characters exchanging bits of dialogue. One notable exception to this occurs early on in the picture when the trio goes to Coney Island for a day. While they move through a variety of different rides and attractions, the whole sequence plays like a silent film with color without any verbal or background noise. We only see these three people have the best day of their life, backed by Marvin Hamlisch’s beautiful and subtle score. This is undeniably creative, but it sometimes felt unappealing. However, Alan Pakula makes up for this in the latter half of Sophie’s Choice, when we start getting glimpses and flashbacks of Sophie’s life in Auschwitz. Many colors are desaturated or muted, similar in style to Steven Spielberg’s later Holocaust film Schindler’s List. It is clear that as the situation becomes bleaker, the colors fade even more. To add further authenticity, a rather large portion of the film is spoken in either Polish or German, a choice that throws me into the admittedly conventional drama. This is contrasted by scenes of Sophie explaining her every action in the present day to Stingo. These cutaways to the modern setting are filmed in a first-person perspective, giving the impression that we are listening to her talk to us in person. This allows the audience to better relate to her and her story; especially in the final act when everything comes to a gut-wrenching head. All three leads are terrific in their respective roles. Peter MacNicol, in his second movie ever, does convincing work as Stingo. Right at home with his Texan accent, his naive demeanor and great ambitions make him a man of great compassion. While he may be better known for comedies such as A Fish Called Wanda, Kevin Kline is fantastic as Nathan Landau. An unpredictable paranoid schizophrenic, some scenes were just uncomfortable to watch. But he’s still an indelible figure to look up to and find some warmth in, like when he first met Sophie and they bonded over reading Emily Dickinson poems. Or later, when he declares in a touching monolog that Stingo is destined to become one of the great American writers, alongside Whitman and Wolfe. But the true standout, as you may already know, is Meryl Streep, who completely deserved her Academy Award for Best Actress. It really can’t be overstated how incredible she is. Aside from her near-perfect Polish accent, she manages to hit almost every single emotion imaginable. She bounces between joy, anger, confusion, and unspeakable sadness with ease. If anyone else was cast as the titular character, this performance (as well as the movie) would probably be forgettable. Aside from being an experiment in acting and emotions, there is a point and meaningful purpose in the story of Sophie’s Choice. Through the eyes of Stingo, we are subject to the capacity one man (or woman) has for both love and suffering. When Sophie first arrives at the concentration camp, she is forced by an SS Officer to choose: will her son or her daughter go to the gas chambers? This is nothing easy for anyone. While she has endured so much pain, she still finds the ability to love other people. No matter how many times Nathan hits her, they keep reconciling and rekindling their relationship. There are brief moments of humor, like Sophie incorrectly mistaking Stingo’s seersuckers for “cocksuckers.” But aside from small moments like that, this film is not uplifting, or even very enjoyable to watch. By the time the credits start to roll, you will be left either speechless in your seat or in ugly tears of sadness. Maybe even both. If you aren’t brought to either one of those states, then it’s questionable if you’re truly human. Although it may be too upsetting for some and a little too conventional for its own good, Sophie’s Choice is a fantastically written and beautifully poignant drama about the distinction between love and suffering. It features one of the greatest performances ever put to film and an ending that will haunt viewers for many weeks after.

Image result for sophie's choice

“The Belko Experiment” Movie Review

For those of you who were upset about my being forgiving toward Kong: Skull Island and wanted me to really shred a movie apart, don’t fret. I just saw The Belko Experiment. This gory slasher horror-thriller was independently produced for a budget of $5 million, and will no doubt earn it all back in a matter of no time following its wide release on March 17th, 2017. Directed by Greg McLean from a script by James Gunn, of Super and Guardians of the Galaxy fame, the project was reportedly written way back in 2010, getting green-lit twice before officially entering production in late 2015. Set in the dump of nowhere near Bogota, Colombia, the narrative follows a group of white collar office workers at a small company called Belko Industries. One day, all of the doors and windows are suddenly shut off by blast doors, when a voice comes over the intercom and announces the start of a new “experiment.” If at least 30 people are not dead within the next several hours, then twice that amount will be killed. To be honest, that premise is actually quite fascinating. Essentially Battle Royale meets Office Space, there’s plenty of potential for a social study at human nature. Not to mention that, in recent years, low-budget horror films have been enjoying a sort of renaissance with their high concept stories and profitable box office receipts. Sadly, The Belko Experiment is not one of those pictures. To start off, the movie is unsure of itself in the tone. The least that a movie in this genre can do is to stay aware of what it is and focus on that aspect entirely. But The  Belko Experiment is never quite confident in what exactly it wants to be. On the one hand, the story could make for an interesting social commentary on how far human beings will go in a game of survival. But it doesn’t take itself seriously enough to be that, so then it could possibly be a dark comedy or satire. But the movie is not funny enough to be classified as such, so then all that’s left for it is a shameless gore fest. And if that’s what it actually wanted to go for, then The Belko Experiment pulled it off with flying colors because, oh my God. There is not a chance that anything released this year from this moment onwards will be more violent than this. Even James Mangold’s Logan seemed tame compared to this film. I would dare called it “Saw without the traps,” but to say that it’s THAT violent and disturbing would be a bit of an overstatement. Despite that, there are actually moments of fun. As soon as the experiment started everything got more suspenseful and you felt that anyone could be a killer. When it comes to the cast, there’s only so much that can be expected from a film like this. Mostly comprised of lesser-known actors, a handful of them actually do a respectable job given the material. John Gallagher Jr. is perfect material for our Everyman protagonist that wants out of this situation. His talkative demeanor makes him more relatable and makes you want to root for him. On the opposite end of that spectrum is Scrubs star, John C. McGinley, who is just so creepy to watch, it’s a bit uncomfortable. He clearly is having the most fun out of anyone with his role, especially when hay hits the fan and goes on a killing spree. Everyone else, though, is either phoning it in or trying way too hard. Michael Rooker and Tony Goldwyn, arguably the biggest names in the movie, seem particularly stiff and wanting of more to say and do. Also, I don’t understand why some cast members think they have to act cartoony. One character reaches an emotional breaking point and starts to cry. But his cry was so fake and unbelievable. I don’t quite know if it was the actor’s fault, but it definitely took me out of the movie for that moment in time. Oh yeah, and there’s one character arc that goes absolutely nowhere. There could be an argument that it was a trick into letting the audience know that no one in this building was safe and that anyone could die. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was built up to a point where you really care for them, and then suddenly they get killed out of the blue. It was at this point in the 88-minute running time that I figured a good ending could redeem the movie as a whole. But the truth is I HATED the ending for The Belko Experiment. This has got to be one of the most on-the-nose setups for a potential sequel I’ve seen in recent cinema. For a while, I was wondering how it was going to end, and then this is what we get? It’s borderline insulting. In all honesty, it’s possible to see this as the start of a new franchise in the same vein as The Purge. Though the first movie doesn’t achieve its full potential, the sequel(s) can capture what a lot of movie fans like myself were expecting on the first go-around. For right now, though, The Belko Experiment is an empty, shameless gore fest confused in tone and direction, but with some fun parts sprinkled in here and there.

Image result for the belko experiment

“Blue Ruin” Movie Review

So there are a few people in my horrendous life that I’ve held a grudge with, but I’ve never gone to lengths of bloody revenge. And now, after watching Blue Ruin, I’m glad I never followed through on that. This R-rated independent revenge thriller reportedly cost about $420,000 to produce, most of which was accumulated from a successful Kickstarter campaign. After its nationwide release on April 25th, 2014, it doubled that.This the film that put writer-director Jeremy Saulnier on the map as a brand new filmmaker to rely on. Set in rural Virginia, the plot follows Macon Blair as Dwight Evans, a beach vagrant who lives out of his car. One day, he finds out that the man who killed his parents and partially ruined his life has been released from prison on a plea bargain. Now he goes out to get some vigilante justice on this person and their equally selfish family. Now as some of you may remember, Jeremy Saulnier later brought us the horror film Green Room in 2016, a movie which I really enjoyed. But of course, like that brutal gore-fest, some of the characters in Blue Ruin, especially the protagonist, make some incredibly stupid decisions. Part of the time, I was rolling my eyes at the choices he made, whether he was somewhere he shouldn’t be or a plan he hadn’t thoroughly examined before acting on it. Granted, his character is supposed to be an idiot of sorts, so there’s that excuse. Despite that blemish in the script, this is still a methodical and believable movie based on the age-old concept of revenge. The cast is mostly comprised of unknown actors and actresses, with its lead star by far being the biggest name. Macon Blair is perfect in the lead role as Dwight. Despite his violent disposition, one can’t help but root for him in his struggles. Near the climax, when confronted by his adversaries, he calmly grimaces, “I’ve been thinking all day for a reason not to do this.” Everyone else in the supporting cast did a great job, though I’m not quite sure if they could use this gem to blossom into a full-blown career. Surprisingly, this has to be one of the quieter films I’ve seen in recent memory. While yes, there are some shootouts and standoffs sprinkled in now and again and the characters do get furiously emotional, it’s all presented in a rather restrained manner. In fact, there are huge swaths of the film that progress without a single word of dialogue said aloud. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. I would argue that this strategy allows the audience to pay more attention and be engaged, in a similar fashion to the Coen Brothers’ 2007 neo-Western, No Country for Old Men. It also allows Jeremy Saulnier to keep a steady focus on the characters and their story arcs. Not just a screenwriter and director, Saulnier also puts his hands to work on the cinematography. The eye-level shots of characters elevate the tension while establishing that no one is the stronger. These are interspersed with shots of the gorgeous nature of backwoods Virginia as well as low-angle interior footage of various locations, such as a roadside bar or a house in the suburbs. As for the soundtrack, nothing is particularly memorable, save for a few retro tracks by classic artists like NinaSimone. But for what score that is there, Macon Blair’s relatives, Will and Brooke, do a solid job at establishing the mood with ambiance and minimal instruments. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking. Because this is the same creative talent behind 2016’s Green Room then it’s bound to be just as horrifically gory and brutal. I’ll stop right now to put that thought to rest because this film is not really that violent- or even very exciting. In reality, Blue Ruin is a slower, more patient examination of vengeance. When people start trying to kill each other, it is quite shocking and blood spills everywhere on the floor and the walls. But I would argue that the film acts as a commentary on the nature of violence- both for the genre itself and for human nature as a whole. When Dwight finally gets to see his plan go through, he doesn’t seem particularly happy to carry it out. In fact, he appears rather disgusted by it, despite how he keeps telling his friends that it’s what has to be done. Were I to place myself into his shoes, it’s hard to think that I would kill the people who wronged me with a smile on my face, completely bereft of sickness inside. And so I suppose, that could be a reason why some of his choices made were questionable. Overall, Blue Ruin is a masterful and memorable thriller that delivers a character-driven story while keeping audiences on the edge of their seats. This has to be one of the best, most original revenge movies ever crafted, sitting up in the annals with The Count of Monte Cristo and Oldboy. Proof that one doesn’t need dazzling effects and a budget worth the GPA of a third-world country to make a solid 90-minute thrill ride.

Image result for blue ruin poster