As part of a Double Feature, Lee reviews Jeremy Saulnier last two movies, starting with 2013’s “Blue Ruin”.
While style and subtext do walk a similar line, and very often meet to great effect in cinema, one does not equate the other. Sometimes a film can be stylish and devoid of hidden meaning, other times subtext riddled yet by-the-numbers in presentation. There are no fast and hard rules to how the balance works, but generally less is more unless you can justify the more on one side by assuring there’s less on the other.
What often happens, to a film’s detriment, is when a director can’t simply allow a film to be less on either subtext or style. Perhaps it’s the idea that audiences like cool images, and snobs like hidden meanings; why not have both, please both sides? This often overloads a movie, and the story gets lost beneath the noise.
This is, unfortunately, an issue with “Blue Ruin”. Things are blue sometimes. It’s a nice stylistic choice, generally. Some might even venture to suspect subtext in its placement at first. Blue pants, blue car, blue clothes, blue sky; you could spend a while trying to figure something out about why it’s there and what its absence means. But as you watch the story of a man seeking vengeance for his parents’ murder, and become involved in the journey he takes, the last thing you want is subtext; in pretending there’s more. And there’s just prevalent enough of a motif throughout “Blue Ruin” to make you think you’re missing something; which is distracting and unnecessary.
This a simple story, told simply. Effectively, even, for the most part. And that’s all it had to be. A little flair here, a little ‘deeper than it looks’ moment there, but nothing too flashy less we get drawn out of the moment. Momentum is what we need to be on protagonist Dwight’s side; any real time for thought and we’ll realise it’s probably best to take no part in this mistake.
Style can help elevate a simple story; true. Look no further than 2011’s “Drive” for present but not invasive style. Subtext can help enrich a simple story; yes. We already talked this year about “Zootropolis”, a film that uses surface fun to teach kids why racism and sexism suck. Push both, and you better push lightly, or you’ll be caught trying too hard.
Other gripe: a little too much gun-nutting for my taste. Good suspense though, and the mumblecore acting doesn’t get too much in the way.
[This review was written as part of a Double Feature with director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. To read that review, click this link.]