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.
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.
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.
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.