Film reviews: Blue Ruin | Pompeii | Tarzan 3D

Macon Blair stars in the film Blue Ruin
Macon Blair stars in the film Blue Ruin
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TO THE endless list of phobias in the world – fear of spiders, fear of heights, fear of someone commissioning another series of Ricky Gervais’ Derek – Blue Ruin adds a new one: fear of a bloke popping out of the boot of your car.

Blue Ruin (15)

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Running time: 90 minutes

****

Written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, the film is a twitchily well-acted thriller, as well as a suspenseful and sometimes very funny examination of revenge. The main drama involves Dwight (Macon Blair), a bearded dosser living off discarded food and sleeping, filthy and alone, in a rusty car by the beach. However, he comes back to life when he learns that the man responsible for his parents’ deaths 20 years ago is being released from prison. The news sends Dwight to break into a beach home for a shower and shave, and then on a road journey back to his roots in West Virginia in search of a payback, which extends far beyond what he ever intended.

Despite the familiarity of vigilante justice movies, Blue Ruin never flattens into a routine story about good men doing bad things. The hero is not a lean, flinty Jason Statham type with an almost supernatural ability to anticipate the details that might stymie his mission. Instead, once clean-shaven, Dwight is revealed as a doughy, sad-eyed Andy Kaufman lookalike, and while he’s resourceful, he’s not a great forward planner. He waits, terrified, for his target and although he exacts retribution and makes his escape, it’s not a clean getaway. He may not even have killed the right man. And later when he takes an arrow to the leg, instead of pulling it out himself, Rambo-style, he decides this is a job for a professional and hobbles off to the ER.

Blue Ruin is propelled forward by such details, by juicy performances, and by a spiralling sense of mayhem. One murder triggers another and soon Dwight is fighting an extended hillbilly clan and has drawn his estranged sister and her two children into the blood feud. A scene where a family home is shot up in crossfire is reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple. As wood splinters go flying and cherished framed photos bite the dust, Saulnier treats us to a devastated sofa. Have these gunslingers no shame?

Who knows what the Blue Ruin of the title refers to? It’s not the settee (wrong colour) and doesn’t seem to crop up anywhere else. It’s another of the film’s off-kilter touches, like the exchange between Dwight and the furious hostage he has stashed in the boot of his car, or a visit to old school pal Ben (Devin Ratray), a gun-nut who counsels against grandstanding when on the job. “No big speeches,” says Ben. “You point the gun, you shoot the gun.”

Saulnier funded his film through crowdsourcing and retirement savings to the tune of $1,000,060, a process so stressful that he passed out during filming one night. Watching his movie generates a different kind of tension: the sense that a film so fresh and exciting can’t possibly manage to wrap up its story in a satisfying way. Yet it does. Blue Ruin is the kind of debut that comes along once in a blue moon. It’s a smart, sophisticated meditation on payback that never falls for the old saw that revenge is sweet; instead, it seems to say, it’s just addictive. n

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

On general release from Friday

Pompeii (12A)

**

LIKE most self-respecting volcanos, Vesuvius takes its sweet time blowing its top – but once it does, everyone should take cover from the eruption of clichés in Paul WS Anderson’s new toga adventure.

There’s Milo, a hunky gladiator played by Kit Harington. Milo has a six-pack but fewer than three facial expressions, yet that’s enough to attract the attention of aristocratic Cassia (Emily Browning, pictured right with Harington), especially after he sorts out her injured horse with a brisk neck wring. “I can’t believe he had the strength to do that,” she swoons. A musclebound horsekiller – what’s not to like?

These things are relative of course; Cassia’s other suitor is Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) who demands henchmen to “Kill them, kill them all!” at least twice in a fey British accent borrowed from Donald Sutherland.

You can feel Anderson’s rumble of pleasure once the big smoking mountain he keeps foreshadowing finally throws a fit, causing his cast to dodge fireballs, try to outrun tidal waves – or, even more ludicrously, run towards them. Anderson’s final petrified image is supposed to capture a Titanic-style endless love, but Pompeii is much more interested in lava than lovers, playing to the arena with a repetitive CGI spectacle that is as moving as watching pixels being extinguished on your computer screen.

Siobhan Synnot

On general release from Wednesday

Ilo Ilo (12A)

****

When a meek young Filipina (Angeli Bayani) becomes a

maid for a middle class Singaporean family, it sets off a series of power struggles. The family’s spoilt, bratty son resents the intrusion, and resists her. When they finally bond, however, this irritates his pregnant mother (Yeo Yann Yann), which puts pressure on her harassed husband, who is trying to hide the family’s precarious finances. A huge hit in Singapore, first time feature film director Anthony Chen has shaped a smart, engaging, universal drama.

Glasgow Film Theatre from Friday.

Honour (15)

***

Paddy Considine plays a former National Front supporter who tracks down runaway Muslim women who have dishonoured their family’s name. The melodrama of his latest bounty hunt undermines the film’s social-realist good intentions, but the performances are pretty committed.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Tuesday to Thursday

Tarzan 3D (PG)

**

Kellan Lutz (The Twilight Saga and The Legend Of Hercules) lends his voice and motion-captured physique to this German animated retelling of the origins of the ape-man. The early account of how meteorites knocked out the dinosaurs is a little unexpected but excitingly staged, and the wildlife, from gorillas to crocodiles, is beautifully rendered. Humans, however, don’t come off so well, resembling waxy video game icons, and if kids are captivated by the slight, over-explained story of Tarzan and Jane versus evil mercenaries, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.

On general release

Brick Mansions (15)

**

The last film Fast And Furious star Paul Walker completed before his death in a car crash in 2013, Brick Mansions is a remake of Luc Besson’s French action film District B13, which has been relocated to Detroit. Crime, gangsters and a neutron bomb furnish the excuse for Walker and co-star David Belle to run around, jumping off walls and shooting stuff.

On general release