Blood Father, 2016.
Directed by Jean-Francois Richet.
Starring Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks and William H. Macy.
After her drug kingpin boyfriend frames her for stealing a fortune in cartel cash, 18 year old Lydia goes on the run, with only one ally in this whole wide world: her perennial screw-up of a dad, John Link, who’s been a drunk, a drug addict, a motorcycle outlaw, and a convict in his time, and now is determined to keep his little girl from harm and, for once in his life, do the right thing…
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past ten years, then it may have caught your attention that Mel Gibson has had his fair share of unfortunate headlines. He’s been in trouble with the law, has been accused of anti-Semitism and domestic abuse, and probably everything in between, and let’s face it, the evidence against him was pretty damning. So it went without saying that the one time box-office titan, became box office poison.
Whether you liked Gibson or not, or have been thoroughly put off him in recent times, what can’t be denied is that he is a fine actor. Troubled certainly, and no small part is played by problems with alcohol. As such Gibson’s career has taken a slide that is, as far as box office appeal, unlikely to ever recover. Not only does he have those headlines to contend with, but also father time too. In recent years Gibson has appeared in a number of enjoyable films, giving some of his best performances in years. Despite the problems and all the box office appeal of Saddam Hussein were he to miraculously resurrect himself as a comedy star, producers and directors have still taken a punt on Gibson based on his talent, even at the possible detriment of their films financial performance.
So Blood Father marks the latest Gibson outing. This time director Jean-Francois Richet is given the task of working with a star, who whilst immensely talented, is possibly going to alienate many of the wider audience. Blood Father is sort of along the Taken vein. The older everyman going out of his way to take down the bad guys to rescue his daughter. These roles were normally reserved for the likes of Steven Seagal in the 90’s, but since Taken, have been given to better actors to try and ground the picture with a little more humility among the punching.
Watching Blood Father was somewhat tragic for me. I grew up watching Lethal Weapon and Mad Max (and each subsequent sequel). Gibson was an idol. He could dip his toe into a variety of genres, and then offer a little complexity to his action roles (in accordance with being convincing as a badass). So his fall from grace was disappointing. What is tragic though is that it was all entirely self-inflicted, and a film like Blood Father comes along and it rocks the critics, and it deserves a wide audience. It deserves to be a Taken, but instead it’s more or less straight to video and under the radar. I’ll say this too, I love Taken (the first) but Blood Father is aeons better in every way.
Based on Peter Craig’s novel (and the screenplay was by he and Andrea Birloff) the film zings like vintage Shane Black. It’s aggressive fiction at its finest and Gibson (playing a recovering alcoholic with a dark past) draws on his history and cathartically uses it to portray a complex character looking for redemption. Gibson’s character Link is surprised when his teenage daughter (Erin Moriaty) reconnects with him after years apart. She’s run afoul of drug dealers and has a price on her head. Link takes her and they go on the run together trying to stay ahead of the dealers, and a hired hitman giving chase. The plot is fairly standard, but this is a film about a man seeking to right the wrongs of a fractured father/daughter relationship. Gibson bares his soul here in what is possibly his finest performance. I mean he’s fantastic in the film. There’s so much soul in his performance. It’s a performance that under different circumstances would rake in a bit of award recognition, but in Gibson’s current Hollywood standing, it’ll go by largely unnoticed and sadly unheralded.
The film is beautifully shot and the action opts for an effectively minimalist approach. Gibson throws himself into everything as he always has done. The support cast are very good. Erin Moriaty plays well with Gibson, she’s interesting to watch. There’s also typically fine support from William H Macy and the always brilliant Michael Parks.
In a year full of monstrously huge blockbusters, many of which offered fairly hollow thrills mostly reliant on CGI over characterisation, Blood Father on its comparatively meagre budget was one of the most enjoyable action films I’ve seen this year, with the best performance from the films star. For me this, like The Nice Guys (which I also loved) evoked 80’s action films brilliantly. What it lacks in originality it makes up for with a central performance drenched in commitment. It’s a man on his hands and knees begging for another shot. Whether there’s any coming back from what he’s done is another debate entirely, but regardless, it’s an engrossing performance.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★