Blood Father. 2016. Directed by Jean-François Richet. Screenplay by Peter Craig & Andrea Berloff; based on the novel by Craig.
Starring Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, William H. Macy, Miguel Sandoval, Dale Dickey, Richard Cabral, Daniel Moncada, Ryan Dorsey, & Raoul Max Trujillo. Why Not Productions/Wild Bunch.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
There’s a fun aspect to the older male action star playing the protective dad. More so in Blood Father. Reason being is that Mel Gibson’s tarnished reputation due to odd, wild rants peppered with racism has put him in a unique position. No longer can we consider him in the same vein as the typical Hollywood leading man. He’s not anymore. We can’t look at him in that way because of the nastiness in his personal life. You can never separate something like that. I mean, look at Tom Cruise – he is bat shit crazy, though I find him an incredible actor, and one willing to even go the real length to do his own intense stunts. I can separate Cruise and Scientology, to a certain extent.
But Gibson, he’s different. It’s unclear to me if he’s actually racist, if he has an anger problem or a drinking problem or both. However, watching him as the titular Blood Father is interesting. He’s able to catch a handful of that old stardom through embracing a character as beat up as his own reputation.
On top of that, Jean-François Richet makes great choices as director to give the action a nice visceral feel. Although a few bits of the writing from Peter Craig (whose novel this is based on) and Andrea Berloff could’ve been tighter. That’s not enough to make the movie less enjoyable. They keep the pace up nicely once everything kicks into high gear, the thrills are genuine and the emotion is real.
People might, and will, say this is just another version of Taken. It’s more than that and, in my opinion, features a better fatherly performance from Gibson simply because the character as written has more range and depth.
Much as you want to dislike him, Mel Gibson is a fine actor. I’ve always thought so, and with the weight of the world creased into his face, the wrinkles of age played up to make him even more grizzled than he is already, he is close to perfect. I’ve not seen a film of his since Signs where he shows as much promise. Perhaps his own life and the trials of his own mistakes play into the role, as an ex-con named John Link whose last chance to get back any semblance of hope or love in his life comes when his estranged daughter runs back into his arms with drug dealers looking to kill her. We see the sores, the warts and all in the performance. Gibson looks the part. He plays the part better. And not only is his emotional depth in the character excellent, he proves himself still worthy of the action star role. It’s natural that people will compare him here with Liam Neeson in Taken. Don’t sell Mel short here. The story and characters alone allow him lots to use. I personally think his personal life became a wreck. There’s always a second chance, for most people. As far as performances go, he does awesome work.
The daughter character, Lydia, is handled well by Erin Moriarty. I only remember her briefly from Season 1 of True Detective. Here, she does nicely as the damaged, wayward young daughter to Gibson’s John. They are an unusual pair, plus the story gives them a big divide after having been apart so long. Their reunion is uneasy and only gets worse by the moment once her secrets follow closely at their heels. She becomes more loving and comfortable the longer they’re together in opposition to him getting more frustrated the further his love pushes him to protect her. They’re a really good duo. Moriarty does just as much of the heavy lifting in terms of character as Gibson. They each make things incredibly fun in their own right.
Also have to mention Michael Parks. He’s solid in the small role as John’s old biker buddy, the Sheriff, whose relationship has changed quite profoundly over the years. Parks is always enjoyable for me. He is just a bit more spice on the already palatable dish of characters we’re served up. Oh, and the ever interesting Dale Dickey is around, as well. She never ceases to impress, no matter how small a role or how big. William H. Macy gives a nice turn as Kirby, John’s sponsor; he is a favourite of mine, so I like seeing him anywhere, any time.
Motel Clerk (re: Lydia): “Hey man, where‘d you find her?”
Link: “A fuckin‘ delivery room”
I dig the plot and it keeps things interesting. You expect a by the numbers job. The writing takes us on a decent ride. There aren’t a ton of big action set pieces, not in the way something like Taken goes for a big portion of hand-to-hand combat and elaborate chases. Blood Father has the action, the intensity, there’s a nice motorcycle chase scene involving an awesome shotgunning to remember. But the story goes further, aiming at the family dynamic. These two damaged people, father and daughter, come back together after many years, and the wounds are deep, they’re nasty, they have issues, each of them. And while the chase and the murders, all that wildness, is centre stage, John and Lydia as characters roots this entire film. They are the foundation. Some of the movie’s best aspects are the quieter moments between the two, as we delve into the family history, who they are, and surprisingly how they’re alike despite being separated for so damn long.
There’s nothing revolutionary about Blood Father. Although not every movie needs to be an innovation to be a success. This is a lot of fun, in a grim and sombre sense. The father-daughter relationship keeps the foundation of this story in place, the action and the thriller elements are an added joy. I’m glad to see Gibson doing a movie close to what he used to do. He is still questionable off the screen; onscreen, he still has what it takes. He carries the character well alongside Moriarty, the perfect fit for his troubled daughter. Their relationship feels real, it feels tragic. I didn’t expect to enjoy this so much. Not only did it keep me interested, wondering how everything would play out, the brief explosions of action and violence were enough to keep my adrenaline going, too.
Try not to sell this one short before seeing it. You may find Gibson, Moriarty, and the whole film in general hold a couple surprises.