IndieWatch: Blue Ruin and Joe
by Jordan Ruimy
There is something entirely captivating in watching a film as little and unknown as “Blue Ruin”. Debut director Jeremy Saulnier has crafted something very unique, a film that amasses in impact the more it goes along. It’s not an easy film to review given the style and structure that Saulnier uses to further move his story, but it’s an independent film that truly gives a good name to the American “indie film” – a cinematic genre that has kind of struggled in the last few years to find and pave a new groove to its used up edges. Saulnier doesn’t necessarily adhere to any conventions, he has a bigger plan. “Blue Ruin” is very much a “crime” film that infuses a boatload of originality to reinvent that aforementioned genre. He properly structures his narrative to get us intrigued from the very first shot. This isn’t a perfect film, but it’s so intriguing, wholly original and so fascinating to watch that you automatically forgive any of its shortcomings.
The story involves a beach bum – an astonishing Macon Blair – who finds out his parents’ murderer is getting out of jail after a 20 year stint. He hops on a stolen car and travels back to his hometown of Virginia with revenge on his mind. The story is of course more complicated than that, but I won’t say more. There are many surprises that come about, and Saulnier would rather you don’t know about them before entering his mystery filled structure. Saulnier obviously owes much to the early crime works of Tarantino and the Coen brothers, especially “Blood Simple” which this film has clearly been much inspired by. As I mentioned to a colleague after the screening, there are far worse films to rip off than that Coen classic. I wouldn’t even go as far as saying it’s a rip-off, as it’s more a reinvention of a genre that was decidedly changed by the Coens in the mid 80’s and early 90’s. Saulnier is obviously a talent to watch and the great news is “Blue Ruin” is currently available on VOD so seek it out.
Another film available on VOD is David Gordon Green’s “Joe” starring Nicolas Cage. This one is from a reputable director that has had weird ups and downs throughout his career. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Green’s stoner comedy phase in Hollywood when he churned out the god-awful “Your Highness”, “The Sitter” and the – at least – watchable “Pineapple Express”. Now it seems like he’s slowly getting back to his roots, which started in 2000 with “George Washington”, a stunner of a film that the late Roger Ebert backed up from Day 1. Ebert was a big Gordon Green fan and comparisons to Terrence Malick weren’t far off at all. “All The Real Girls”, “Snow Angels”, “Undertow” and last year’s “Prince Avalanche” were all a slice of Americana that were at the same time very meditative and naturalistic in their approaches.
Another talent that has strayed on the wrong path lately has been Nicolas Cage, who seems to sign up for roles that not only don’t demand much, but also veer towards stupidity. It has of course diminished his reputation as a solid actor, let us not forget his brave and exciting performances in “Adaptation”, “Leaving Las Vegas”, “Raising Arizona”, “Wild At Heart” and “Red Rock West” just to name a few. In “Joe”, Cage also goes back to his roots giving us his best performance in a very long time as an ex-con that runs a tree-poisoning business in the rural south and befriends a teenage boy that gets abused daily by his drunkard of a father (Gary Coulter).
Add both of these underappreciated talents together and you might get something special, which in a way “Joe” is. It’s a film that – like “Blue Ruin” – gives indie cinema back its good name. Yet, I’ve forgotten to mention the best part about the film: Gary Coulter. As the aforementioned abusive dad, Coulter, who sadly passed away last year, is so damn good that I’ve heard some people mention a possible posthumous Oscar nod, which is stretching it considering how small of a film this is and how early in the year it got released. Coulter, a non-actor, was homeless when Green decided to cast him in the role of Wade, which only adds to his haunting portrayal of a man so brutal and evil that you flinch every time he’s on screen.