A film review by Craig J. Koban November 18, 2016


2016, R, 88 mins.


Mel Gibson as John Link  /  Erin Moriarty as Lydia  /  William H. Macy as Kirby Curtis  /  Elisabeth Röhm as Ursula  /  Thomas Mann as Jason  /  Diego Luna as Jonah  /  Dale Dickey as Cherise  /  Ryan Dorsey as Shamrock  /  

Directed by Jean-François Richet  /  Written by Andrea Berloff, based on the novel by Peter Craig

No other actor is better at playing teeth clenched, nostrils flaring loose cannon roles better than Mel Gibson.  

No one.  

BLOOD FATHER - a rare starring vehicle for the actor, especially if you simply glance over his performance resume as of late - includes a quintessential "Mad Mel" character that only he can inhabit with a fiery gusto: a hard edged, deeply flawed and morally bankrupt goon with a heart of gold that, when the going gets tough, lets his fists do the talking.   BLOOD FATHER certainly doesn't reinvent the wheel as far as chase/revenge thrillers go, but it works sensationally well as a luridly entertaining B-grade exploitation film that harnesses Gibson's talent for playing muscled bound grizzled anti-heroes with an infectious relish.

Gibson recently returned behind the director's chair after a ten year absence with HACKSAW RIDGE, which prompted me to check out this mostly forgotten film from the latter half of the past summer season.  Not that he directed it, mind you, but because it's become hard to find films that he's starred in lately.  If you excuse smaller supporting roles in an EXPENDABLES sequel and MACHETE KILLS, Gibson's only major turns as lead actor during the last several years were in the underrated EDGE OF DARKNESS, the passable GET THE GRINGO, and the awfully wrongheaded THE BEAVER.  It's kind of a giddy thrill to see him populate BLOOD FATHER in retrospect, seeing as it's a somewhat loving ode to the types of hyper violent action thrillers of the 80's and 90's, a period that featuring many a genre picture with him front and center.  That, and the character Gibson plays here almost serves as a sly form of meta commentary about the star's past indiscretions and trying to come clean about them (more on that in a bit). 



On paper, BLOOD FATHER contains a story pretty much on obligatory autopilot.  It's about a young woman that has become embroiled with some very corrupt and shady men that tries to flee from said men, only to be reacquainted with her very estranged ex-convict father in the process, leading to both of them going on the run to escape the clutches of these vile thugs.  The young woman in question is 17-year-old Lydia (Erin Moriarty), whom has become an item with the very nasty gangbanger Jonah (Diego Luna), and after a very wrongheaded accident (during which time she accidentally shoots him in the neck), she flees the scene to save her life, which unavoidably leads to her crossing paths with her father, John Link (Gibson), a sad sack of an absentee-father/human being that was once an alcoholic crook that did serious time, but now lives a lonely and pathetic existence in a trailer park doing tattoos to make ends meet. 

The introduction to John is highly compelling, to say the least.  We first see him in close-up, and as the camera pans back it's revealed that he's at an AA meeting with his sponsor (William H. Macy) professing his past sins and his willingness to stay clean, which he has for the past two years.  The not-so-subtle inference here directed at Gibson's own highly questionable and very publicized actions that got him into career hot water years ago is readily apparent, which allows the opening scenes of BLOOD FATHER to resonate a bit more personally than most other grindhouse action flicks.  It's almost as if Gibson - through John - is freely admitting his deplorable mistakes and trying to make amends for them; it's a confessional and apology for both character and actor.   

Anyhoo', John's sobriety and clean status with his parole office is thrown for a loop with the appearance of Lydia back into his life, complicated by the fact that she's a druggie and alcoholic, so seeing her give way to temptations could feed back into his own.  Things get really, really dicey when Jonah's hitman squad locates John's trailer park and fills his home with bullets.  Of course, John doesn't take kindly to his home being shot to smithereens, so he defends himself and his daughter in all manners that would clearly break his parole status and flees with Lydia in tow.  You don't have to be a fortune teller to know where BLOOD FATHER is headed next, and even though it does make a few memorable and unpredictably tense detours - like John crossing paths with a former criminal associate (played brilliantly by Michael Parks) that sells Nazi memorabilia online from his ranch - the film progresses and culminates with an unavoidable predictability.  That, and the villains here are developed with paper mache levels of thinness.   

BLOOD FATHER is trash cinema.  Pure and simple.  However, it's good trash cinema that knows what it is and makes no apologies for it.  Directed by Jean-Francois Richet (whom previously made the surprisingly decent remake of ASSAULT ON PRESCIENT 13) with an clear cut flare for harnessing the film's wanton garishness, BLOOD FATHER has a grit and gnarly texture that serves it rather well.  Richet also has a no-nonsense approach to the action, which is grounded in a lean, mean, and blood spattered immediacy that gives the film an gut-punching aura of suspense throughout.  And, yes, even when the film careens towards a climax of preordained predictability, Richet keeps the overall momentum of the film lively; at a mercifully short 88 minutes, he understands the value of not having a film like this overstay its welcome, a trait that far too many films these days fail to understand. 

Gibson is the quarterback that keeps everything energetically afloat here.  BLOOD FATHER is a reminder to all that see it that - when allowed to sink his teeth into a character - Gibson can be as effective as they come.  Granted, this is a pretty standard Gibson-ian character of untapped and subjugated rage, but one that's far older, grumpier, and weathered than most that he's played in the past.  He brings the same steely eyed level of dangerous menace here that has made him a star, for certain, but John feels a lot more refreshingly worn and beat down by life than most of Gibson's previous characters, which makes for a more intriguing case study.  At a ripe 60-years-old, though, Gibson is still a remarkably cut and jacked physical specimen that feels palpably intimidating.  He's complimented rather nicely by Erin Moriarty, who brings a snarky level of matter-of-fact sass to her role as John's troubled daughter.  They're both deeply fractured human beings that struggle to eek out a life of sobriety amidst their chemical temptations.  Gibson and Moriarty craft an authentically rendered father/daughter dynamic that feels lived-in and their attuned performances suggest a vast sordid history of pain that the screenplay and short running time don't always have time to embellish. 

BLOOD FATHER is a delectably pulpy good time if you allow yourself to be won over by its sensationalistic charms.  It's a grungy and blood spattered film that would have probably found a place at many a midnight screening at second run drive-ins of yesteryear, but beyond its exploitation cinema facade lurks an rancorously potent performance by Gibson that leads the charge, which helps to elevate it above being a cheaply disposable genre effort for all involved.  BLOOD FATHER is perhaps more rollicking fun and efficiently entertaining than it has any business of being, but it just goes to show that the strength of an actor that's trying to exorcise past demons playing a character that too is trying to exorcise past demons can really carry a film. 


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