Why is everyone such an asshole these days? Seems everywhere you go, everyone is purely out for themselves, with no thought for the feelings of others, even actively going out of their way to be mean for their own twisted satisfaction. What happened to simple human decency? What happened to looking out for each other? Why is it so difficult for us all to just get along? These are the thoughts that race through the mind of Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) every waking hour as she has to deal with these assholes at work (she's a nursing assistant) and among the public, it appears to her nobody is plain nice anymore, and then something happens to her which is the final straw...
This was the first film directed by actor Macon Blair, an unassuming but pointed indie that debuted at Sundance and was promptly snapped up by NetFlix before there was even a whiff of a further cinema release. As that company do not admit how well or how poorly their content does, and any ratings collator has to resort to guesswork, it is difficult to gauge if this was a successful route for the movie to take, and you get the impression it was written off a little as straight to internet fodder rather than given a fair crack at the critical whip. It was well worth investigating should you have access to it, however, in the vein of the Coen Brothers' crime dramas, laced with quirky comedy.
Indeed, there was something of The Big Lebowski about Ruth's adventures through the criminal underworld, from the most impoverished to the richest and a few points in between. Lynskey was essentially our Jeff Bridges stand-in, someone who did not fit into the modern world thanks to her values not being reflected back at her in the increasingly self-involved era she was getting older in; you can imagine she fears that ageing as it means she will end up alone among the uncaring and deliberately aggressive and criminal. But in a distaff Falling Down manner, what if there was something she could do about it? When her house is burgled and a laptop, medication and silverware of great sentimental value is stolen, she decides enough is enough.
This was inspired by the experiences of director Blair, who also penned the screenplay, and felt the police didn't care enough about actually doing something to solve the crime that had been committed in his house, therefore he did what any creative type would do: channelled his frustrations into his work. Ruth takes a different approach, she turns detective and tries to track down the perpetrator herself, initially targeting a local home where her laptop resides thanks to the device on her phone able to pick up its signal. She does not go there alone, however, as she senses she needs back-up, therefore recruits a lonely misfit called Tony (Elijah Wood once again demonstrating his indie credentials) who she has recently admonished for being antisocial. Together they make an unbeatable crimefighting team.
Well, that's the idea, but in effect their success depends more on luck than design. When Ruth discovers where the fence for the stolen goods is, she and Tony hasten there and she gets her first real lead when she realises one of the patrons is the burglar thanks to a match on a plaster cast she made of his footprint in her backyard. Armed with this information, she goes to the police (Gary Anthony Williams in an excellent turn) but is told they do not approve of vigilantes, and how did she break her finger anyway? This leads into a plot that spirals off into directions that may be anticipated, but were fresh enough in the presentation that it did not matter. Perhaps it was the similarity between this and episodes of the Fargo television series that it may not be too much of a surprise when this transformed into a bloodbath, and all because Ruth wanted people to be nicer to one another. You had the impression the film was fully on her side, yet not above having rather vicious fun at her expense too, an interesting combination, as you can get folks to behave - when forced to at pain of death. Music by the director's brothers.