Who knew the speedbump in this man’s road to recovery would be his own kid? Academy Award winner Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna and Academy Award nominee William H. Macy star in Blood Father.
Director – Jean- Francois Richet
Screenplay – Peter Craig & Andrea Berloff
Based on the novel Blood Father by Peter Craig
Producer – Chris Briggs, Peter Craig, Pascal Caucheteux & Sebastien K. Lemercier
Rated R for strong violence, language throughout and brief drug use
After serving seven years in prison, recovering alcoholic John Link (Mel Gibson) is finally out on parole, working as a tattoo artist in his beat-up trailer home and attending AA meetings with his sponsor Kirby Curtis (William H. Macy). Just when things seem to start turning themselves around for John, however, he gets a call from his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty).
Go figure. Obviously, this can only mean something good.
Actually, it isn’t good. No, far from it. Turns out Lydia, also an alcoholic and one-upping her father by adding drug addiction as well, has gotten herself into some serious trouble with her boyfriend Jonah Pincerna (Diego Luna) and his gang. Lydia runs back to the protective arms of her father, but when Jonah and his boys manage to track her down, it’ll be up to John to make things right.
2016 just very well might be the comeback year Mel Gibson has been waiting for. Back in November, Hacksaw Ridge, his first directorial feature since 2006’s Apocalypto, proved he can still put on one hell of a show behind the camera. On the opposite end of the camera, Blood Father is his first lead role since 2012’s Get the Gringo, and much like what he accomplished with Hacksaw Ridge, his turn in the Jean-Francois Richet directed action-thriller shows he still has what it takes as an actor.
It’s a shame that the advertisements marketed Blood Father like it’s a cheap knockoff of the Taken franchise which might explain the unfortunate limited release. The studio backing it probably figured diminishing returns with Liam Neeson’s action trilogy combined with Gibson’s past controversy weren’t gonna bring the moviegoers to see this in droves. That’s really unfair to this film which, despite being marketed as a mindless, straight-to-DVD action-thriller, offers a hell of a lot more than what all three Taken films have been able to offer combined.
Based on the novel of the same name by co-writer Peter Craig (The Town and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and 2), Blood Father bears some similarities to Get the Gringo, yet while both work as effectively made, entertaining B-movie thrillers, Gibson’s newest neo-Western provides a little more in the character department. From a visual standpoint, director Jean-Francois Richet injects plenty of pulpy, B-movie energy into his picture, from the frequent handheld camerawork to the stark, Wild West atmosphere of the New Mexico locale (Gibson’s presence plus the strong work by cinematographer Robert Gantz will understandably have viewers recalling Mad Max). Though he takes a more economical route compared to other heftier, more bloated action flicks, Richet doesn’t shortchange viewers on the action and delivers the goods when necessary, keeping things moving at a steady pace and wrapping everything up in a lean, padding-free 90 minutes.
Craig and co-writer Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center, Straight Outta Compton) sprinkle into their script the usual beats typically found in most action-thrillers, but they do manage to craft a compelling relationship between the film’s two main characters, which is what ultimately makes Blood Father a much stronger film than Taken. Both John Link and his daughter are no saints. Far from it. They’re both alcoholics and she’s a drug addict on top of that. He has a criminal record, and while she may not have served the time behind bars that her father has, she’s nevertheless wound up with the kind of crowd bad enough to send her down that road. In fact, you could easily argue Lydia brought a lot of the trouble she’s facing on herself (and there are moments where Papa Link seems to be in agreement). These two are definitely fallen angels, yet there’s still just enough humanity in them both to make them a familial duo worth rooting for, and watching the bond between them grow from a fractured relationship to what it eventually becomes is a real treat in terms of character development that you don’t often expect to find in a bare bones pulp-thriller.
Blood Father’s biggest selling point is the most obvious and that’s Gibson’s performance. As a wearied, recovering alcoholic trying to right the wrongs of his past, many undoubtedly will find Mad Max’s turn here to be more than a case of art imitating life. But from the moment he first pops up onscreen, staring straight ahead with a grizzled, worn down appearance that conveys years of regret, we’re quickly reminded of a man that can be force when he gives it his all in front of the camera. Sure, maybe he’s channeling his own personal past circumstances for inspiration, but whether that’s the case or not, Gibson goes all in and sells it perfectly, delivering one of the finest performances of his career. And when the time calls for action, the artist formerly known as Max Rockatansky and Det. Martin Riggs shows he hasn’t lost a step (Mel must be taking the right vitamins, ’cause even at 60 years of age, the man looks ripped enough to twist me into a pretzel).
Just watch him when a motel clerk suggestively asks, “Where’d you find her?”, in regard to his daughter. He responds with, “In the delivery room.”, which may only be four words, but it carries enough “touch her and die” fierceness that shows he’s not messing around.
Even with this being Mel’s showcase, there’s plenty of strong supporting talent here backing him up. As Gibson’s estranged daughter, Erin Moriarty is terrific and forms a strong dynamic with the veteran actor that makes their emotionally honest (and at times, brutally honest) interactions some of the film’s strongest moments. The always dependable William H. Macy is once again a welcome sight as Gibson’s AA sponsor/friend. Diego Luna makes for an effective baddie as Moriarty’s vindictive ex-boyfriend, and invaluable character actor Michael Parks delivers his brief but memorable scenes with relish as an old, shrewd acquaintance of Link’s.
Some of the supporting characters don’t benefit from the same level of depth that is found in the relationship between John and his daughter, but the actors are game and mange to elevate what may be lacking in their roles on paper with their performances.
At first glance, Blood Father may appear to be a straightforward action-thriller, but what could’ve turned out to be throwaway pulp is given a much needed boost thanks to a Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff’s strong script, Jean-Francois Richet’s spare, no frills direction and a fantastic cast led by a commanding as ever Mel Gibson back in top form. It’s unfortunate that this film has essentially been buried by a limited theatrical/VOD release, especially given all the sub-par to atrocious action flicks 2016’s vomited out at us that have been able to reach wider audiences. Limited or not, however, and of course, despite its competition being next to nothing, Blood Father stands as one of the better films of its kind this year.
I give Blood Father an A- (★★★½).