Synopsis – An ex-con reunites with his estranged wayward 17-year old daughter to protect her from drug dealers who are trying to kill her.
My Take – It’s been 4 years since we had a good reason to be excited about a Mel Gibson film, his first leading role since his similarly robust turn in the very underrated Get the Gringo (2012), shows him back in his amazing, charismatic, volatile, genius and growling form. Yes, from the trailers this may seem like just another Hollywood “resurrection” role, where a former A-list big-star disappears from the screen for a while and then comes back in a role in which he has to save an offspring from a bunch of bad people, but this Jean-François Richet directed film is little more than that, it’s a simple merciless story of retribution. Mel Gibson‘s return to charismatic form here is nothing short of a great success. The character and the performance you see here is something that Gibson often returns to from time to time, the tortured soul, protective of his loved one, willing to unleash hell when necessary. This film may not have the Michael Bay‘s explosive extravaganza, it may not have the same intensity as Triple 9, and it’s not much of a tearjerker as you might expect but it is a good film that aspires to give something new to the action films. This film is aimed at getting us used to him once more following the series of inflammatory rants that derailed his career some time ago. For he’ll be with us again in November with the release of Hacksaw Ridge, the first film he’s directed since 2006’s Apocalypto.
Adapted from a novel by Peter Craig, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the story follows John Link (Mel Gibson), an ex convict trying to live a quiet life as a tattoo artist. His life is turned upside down when his drug infused teenage daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), a runaway who’s been missing for three years shows up asking for his help to disappear. It turns out she has been living for the past years with a Mexican drug dealer Jonah (Diego Luna) and during one of his stints she accidentally kills him. Now she’s on the run from his gang and before long, Link is on the run with her. The gang has arrived, demolished the battered trailer where he’s eking out a living as a tattooist and he and Lydia are heading off into a desert wilderness with the same broad demographic mix as an old-fashioned Western. Running through the California desert dodging bullets, gang bangers, Sicarios, and vengeful bikers left and right all while both trying to stay sober. Agreed, the film’s plot isn’t solid, it relies on clichés, stereotypes and contrivances, and has the Taken (2008) aspect of Gibson’s character willing to do anything he can based on his skills as a biker gang member and links in prison to protect his daughter, but it doesn’t really matter, as this whirlwind ride punches out set piece after set piece at a gloriously entertaining rate. Director Jean-Francois Richet (Assault of Precinct 13) has made a very straightforward film, it has that father-daughter drama, though not as strong or as powerful as such films as “The Wrestler,” for example, but some of the lines do hit home, and the action is more about firepower and gunfights, very brute, very basic, but it gets the job done. The best part about the film is that it’s exactly the film you think it’s going to be. If you’ve seen the trailer you know this film, and in this case that’s not a bad thing. The film never once deviates from its plot and tone over the course of its perfectly taut 88-minute run time. There’s no fluff, no unnecessary dialogue or characters, just hard-hitting action and thrills. It’s unapologetic in its simple reasoning to have Mel Gibson doing what he does best; playing a father and busting heads. This is essentially a modern day western with motorcycles instead of horses and Mel absolutely killing it as the not-to-be-messed-with man with a troubled past. His character John Link has done far more bad in his life than good and sees protecting his daughter as the last chance he may ever have to atone for his sins, even if it means doing those bad things again. This is a world filled with gangs, killers, drugs and criminals, a world that John Link is all too familiar with and not that far removed from. Much of the film is set in the desert, so one can’t help but make a stretched comparison to Mel Gibson‘s old days as Mad Max. The best way to describe this film in a way that today’s audiences would understand is that Gibson‘s character, John Link, is more or less kind of like Liam Neeson‘s character in “Taken” franchise, but with less resources and Link is more rough around the edges. But both characters would go above and beyond for their respective daughters. Going into the third act Mel Gibson really digs his teeth into this role where he taps into his Mad Max past and shows that he still has it when it comes to an action based film. This is where the film picks up entirely from a little lull in the middle and makes this film even more fun. Which is a word I don’t really like using because it makes it seem like it is a bit mediocre but that is not the case at all.
This is the kind of revenge film pioneered by Charles Bronson in the 1970s and ’80s and brought to a new box-office peak by Liam Neeson in the past few years. In this genre, extreme violence is perfectly acceptable if it helps a father rescue his child and wreak havoc on the perpetrators. And by these standards, Link, initially, is relatively restrained. It’s not that he’s particularly concerned about the welfare of innocent bystanders. At the outbreak of hostilities, he’s just worried about violating his parole. But once the going gets really tough and he has nothing left to lose, the old Gibson is unleashed and all attempts to keep track of the collateral damage become futile. There are some bitter little nuggets of humor along the way and there’s a terrific exchange between Lydia and Preacher (Michael Parks), one of Link’s old partners in crime. With silky viciousness, he tells her what he thinks of Beverly Hills princesses who think gangsters are chic. It’s such a sustained and controlled spray of vitriol that it seems to have been dropped in from some other much more sophisticated film. Gibson‘s character has great interactions with his neighbor/sponsor, played by William H. Macy, who isn’t in the film a lot but when he is he brings the comic relief for the other characters to play off. Swapping shiny and highly choreographed for gritty and messy, the action sequences are short, propulsive and intense; the practical effects and stunts a welcome treat in the modern CGI landscape dominating the blockbuster season. There’s a wonderful streak of black humor coursing through its veins too, often skirting that morally uncomfortable line between funny and plain wrong that is a hallmark of exploitation cinema. Some might say the film is predictable and I don’t blame them, it is after all just one of those films for us Charles Bronson or Liam Neeson fans who just want to see the bad guys ultimately get what they deserve, a satisfying punishment. Mel Gibson may have messed up a few times in his personal life, but I don’t know the man, whatever he’s said or done hasn’t really bothered me like it’s bothered people who have gone so far to boycott his films and ensure that he never makes the big time again (hello Hollywood). But one thing that will never change is the fact that he’s a marvelous screen presence, a bona fide film star, and here he’s the Mel Gibson that we remember from the late eighties/early nineties, albeit with a few more lines. This film has the Gibson as you remember from Lethal Weapon, Payback, and even a little Mad Max, a total badass with a twinkle in his eye and always time for a pun, even in the middle of gunfight. If Gibson is good, Erin Moriarty is a revelation. This is her breakout role. You will be seeing her again soon. The script requires her to play both young/stupid and smart/strong at the same time, a contradictory role that would be a challenge for an A-list pro. She takes command of the role and becomes unforgettable by the end of the third act. William H. Macy steals his few scenes as Gibson‘s sponsor/best friend, Diego Luna is great as the main villain, and Michael Parks is extremely entertaining as a sociopathic ex Nazi and former colleague of Link’s. On the whole, ‘Blood Father’ is a tense, gritty, violent, and surprisingly funny action thriller, which reminds us once again why you don’t mess with Mel Gibson.
Directed – Jean-François Richet
Rated – R
Run Time – 88 minutes