Because the Flannery O’Connor novel Wise Blood is utterly fascinating (on the second reading, that is; on the first reading it meanders), the faithful film version by John Huston is utterly fascinating.
It tells of a Southern oddball who rebels against his fundamentalist Christian upbringing by preaching atheism until he discovers that, well, he cannot escape the Jesus he verbally denies. He wants Him. He has Christianity in his blood, therefore to O’Connor—and to me—he has wise blood. The film, from 1979, is deeply and idiosyncratically religious as well as ably made. It sorely lacks O’Connor’s sense of terror but not her humor. Most of the performers, e.g. Brad Dourif in the main role, do well. (Ned Beatty is immensely enjoyable.) The film’s last few minutes, though, do not compare with the poetic final paragraph in the novel, wherein the Southern rebel dies in a state of grace and, distant now from earthly existence, is perceived to be a faraway light.
In Blue Ruin (2014), a recent film by Jeremy Saulnier, a loner who lives as a bum learns that the murderer of his parents is being released from prison. Hungry for vengeance, wide-eyed Dwight, the loner (played by Macon Blair), tracks down the ex-con and kills him, thus precipitating a chain of vigilante attempts as well as harrowing violence. It is clear that the film deals with what makes revenge problematic, but it also centers on the shattering messiness of life as lived by lost souls who make dark, bad decisions.
Individuals scenes in Blue Ruin are better than Saulnier’s okay writing: disbelief must be suspended a little too often. But his direction is fine and the movie is a potent nail-biter.
The 1951 Billy Wilder film, Ace in the Hole, is one of those wherein Wilder expresses his anger over deception and skulduggery, the bilking of the innocent or vulnerable for the sake of money or prestige or sex. A newspaper reporter (Kirk Douglas) “befriends” a man trapped under rocks during a mountain cave-in, but cruelly arranges for a third-rate rescue operation in order to prolong the man’s predicament. This, the reporter believes, will make for a more important scoop, one that will possibly guarantee for the gent a New York City position.
That the lousy rescue plan is devised is not quite credible, and, unlike other Wilder films, Ace is disturbingly gray, chilly. Even so, it is one of his best. The whole of Wilder’s personality is evident in it; it’s intelligently cynical and morally meaningful. Neither Wilder nor Douglas makes the reporter a caricature; the former aims for too much unHollywood-like honesty to commit such an error.