MOVIE REVIEW: Blood Father
“BLOOD FATHER”—3 STARS
Debuting on two screens at a single Chicago cinema location for limited theatrical release ahead of a VOD bow in two weeks, ”Blood Father” resurrects the cagey and fierce Mel Gibson. Languishing on an invisible black list, the “Braveheart” Oscar winner is living in a new age demographic and hoping to crack back into the larger spotlight. Mel might not be able to leap through dozens of stunt sequences anymore, but the man has lost none of his psychological vigor or resolve. His brand of crazy still works in this throwback actioner.
Gibson plays John Link, a former convicted felon attempting to reform his ways by renouncing his old addictive vices and avoiding the wrong company. His church-based sponsor, Kirby Curtis (William H. Macy), has talked him out of alcohol and guns. John squeaks by as a trailer park tattoo artist nursing an unreliable Chevy Nova to get him around. Seeking peace off of the beaten path, one of his regrets is a strained relationship with his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty of “The Kings of Summer” and “The Watch”).
Lydia is listed as a missing person when she’s actually abusing substances and mixed up with the wrong kind of criminal element, led by the greasy cartel-connected Jonah (Diego Luna). When one of their home invasion scores goes south and shots are fired, Lydia deserts Jonah and contacts her father for money and help. Dropping everything, John comes to her aid, takes her in, and tries to clean her up. Jonah’s people track the two down and the bullets fly, pushing John and Lydia to hid the road to go on the lam evading capture and execution. Well-traveled in the seedy underworld, John uses his guile to push back and stay ahead of the drug dealers and hitmen on their tail. He enlists some help from buddies like Kirby and former associates that owe him a few favors, including the white supremacist Preacher (Tarantino vet Michael Parks) and jailed kingpin Arturo Rios (character actor Miguel Sandoval).
Nothing about “Blood Father” is groundbreaking because it doesn’t need to be. The film really only has one job: Deliver enough pulpy action from a screen favorite to satiate action viewers old enough to remember the hard-R good old days from 25-30 years ago. Diverse French director Jean-Francois Richet (“Assault on Precinct 13” and the “Mesrine” twin bill) orchestrates a simple fatherly revenge story straight from the Liam Neeson playbook, a proven well of repeatable content.
Written by the dynamic team of Peter Craig (“The Town,” “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” chapters, and the upcoming “Bad Boys 3”) and Andrea Berloff (“Straight Outta Compton”), “Blood Father” feels like it could have been made in the late-1980s/early-1990s and fit right in. Riffing on nostalgia works when composed correctly. The deadpan humor, gun play, traditional stunt work, lightly varnished villain threats, predictable plot turns, and scant investment in character development are knowingly dated and intentionally crafted. In this day and age, that counts as a love letter rather than an imitation knock-off to the action genre of that era.
Contrary to initial public bias, Mel Gibson is not the root of a single of this film’s sometimes messy problems. It’s everyone else. Erin Moriarty overplays the “Come on, dad” grating Millennial tone and is over-matched to portray a compelling target worthy of rescue or protection. Diego Luna is a talented actor with layers to give being reduced to a one-note and intentionally absent villain role, lessening his potential. Michael Parks gets some nice speechifying time to verbally spar with Gibson, but the impact of their confrontations comes and goes without real risk. It is certainly nice to see supporting players like William H. Macy and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” star Thomas Mann. However, they too are given precious little of consequence to do. More work was needed to flesh out better connectivity.
Meanwhile, the star of the show steals and saves the show, just as he should. This is the grizzled and ballsy Mel Gibson we have missed for far too long while occupying a place on the “persona non grata” list in Tinseltown. Those who can separate the man from the acting and ignore the tabloids, as we often do with fellow off-screen lightning rods like Sean Penn and Tom Cruise, will be a treated to all of the qualities we missed from his hey-day. Mel can still deliver rapid fire quips and comebacks of dark humor one second and punch someone’s lights out the next with the temperature of burning sun. Cue the “you still got it” chants, turn back the clock, and begin your hero worship.
LESSON #1: FIND A BETTER NETWORK OF FRIENDS AND ALLIES—Lydia gets mixed up with the wrong crowd and has no one to blame but herself for the people she associates with. Her dad, however, has a core support group of fellow ex-cons that still keep their firearms, old heavies that owe him favors, and highly-placed crime friends who are still instead prison. Through zero social media, John Link makes your LinkedIn page looks like crap when push comes to shove.
LESSON #2: DON’T F—K WITH A MAN’S DAUGHTER—In the eight years since 2008, are there still people and bad buys that have not seen “Taken” or its sequels? Come on cartel minions, sicarios, and bosses, you know who’s bound to come looking for his little girl. Don’t piss a dad off. That “dad bod” and unkempt beard masks a sleeping lion underneath.
LESSON #3: DON’T F—K WITH A MAN’S DAUGHTER WHEN THAT MAN IS PLAYED BY MEL GIBSON— At now 60 years old and embracing the gray hair, Mel Gibson looks like he could still play aged versions of Max Rockatansky, Martin Riggs, and William Wallace with no lost edge underneath a few more grains and folds of leather on the outside. Mel Gibson was “zero f—ks given” before it was a meme and Urban Dictionary entry. Leave his people alone.