Ferocious Blood Father a Violently Entertaining Genre Throwback
John Link (Mel Gibson) is an ex-con, recovering alcoholic and moderately successful tattoo artist living in a dilapidated RV in a secluded trailer park out in the middle of the California desert. His estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) has been missing for the past couple of years, and even though she was living with his ex-wife at the time of her disappearance he feels responsible all the same.
After Lydia calls out of the blue pleading for help, John drops everything to do what he can for her, no questions asked. But his daughter’s problems are much more dangerously destructive than any he could have imagined, the 17-year-old marked for death by a Mexican drug cartel after an incident with her boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna) turns bloody. With thugs and assassins hot on their trail, John refuses to lose Lydia for a second time, exacting bloody vengeance on any and all that come calling intent on doing her harm.
If one was to imagine a film for Mel Gibson to star in it would likely look a heck of a lot like Blood Father. This down and dirty action throwback fits the former international movie star’s perceived persona just about perfectly, reminding the viewer why they fell in love with the actor in the first place. Echoes of Mad Max and Lethal Weapon can be found throughout, director Jean-François Richet (the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) tapping into the same form of primal, yet sometimes still playful, emotional ferocity that helped make Gibson a household name. It’s a fast-paced burst of energetic gusto that’s as violent and as cutthroat as one would expect it to be, all held together by a purposefully melodramatic scenario that would be unintentionally silly if it weren’t so darn effective.
Peter Craig (The Town), working with Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), adapts his own pulp novel, the pair’s script containing zero fat as it moves its way towards a relatively anticipated, if still refreshingly ruthless, conclusion. It all moves as if it were shot straight out of a canon, the base elements a consistent punch to the gut that are as bruising as they are enjoyable. Craig and Berloff don’t hide their hand while also refusing to pull their punches, understanding this is an adrenaline-fueled throwback to low budget 1970s and ‘80s action films of yore that have only grown in esteem and appreciation as the years have passed.
As for Richet, he brings the same sort of visceral, lived-in intensity to the story that he brought to both his French Mesrine thrillers, grounding things in ways that are moderately surprising, allowing the emotional through line powering events to feel a tiny bit more genuine in the process. He refuses to paint pretty pictures, and while there is much splendor to be found in Robert Gantz’s (Mindhunters) lyrically intense cinematography, the visuals never overshadow the core emotional components at the heart of things.
He’s also cast things perfectly, a number of character actors ranging from Oscar-nominated heavyweights like William H. Macy, to comfortably familiar faces like Miguel Sandoval and Dale Dickey, to up and coming newcomers like Thomas Mann, to colorful cult icons like Michael Parks, popping up at key moments throughout. Richet also stages a number of crackerjack sequences, including an early number where John’s trailer comes under assault by the first crew of attackers intent on doing his daughter harm, the topsy-turvy way they come up with to unsettle him suitably amusing to say the least.
But this is Gibson’s showcase, and while the movie might be some savvy combination of some of the actor’s past efforts, most notably Mad Max, Ransom and Edge of Darkness, and while he isn’t doing anything we haven’t seen from him before, his enthusiasm tackling a character like this one is still readily apparent. This is a bad man trying to do the right thing who must return to ways he has gone out of his way to suppress for a number of years, unleashing an inner demon that destroys everything it comes into contact with in the process. Gibson has a field day doing just this, his performance building in concentrated rage as the film progresses.
The actor is in fine form and has terrific chemistry with the exceedingly game Moriarty, and while Macy could have been utilized to greater impact, a couple of his imaginative facial contortions were more than enough for me to be okay with his somewhat muted presence. Parks’ introduction, however, is superb, while his exit might be even better. There’s also a great motorcycle chase during the third act that had me grinning ear-to-ear, the carnage that transpires giddily cringe worthy every step of the way. It’s all pretty thin, of course, and I’m not entirely sure the story ultimately earns the reserved solemnity of its climax, but that doesn’t make Blood Father any less entertaining or a rousing return to form for the controversial Gibson. The film works, that’s it, and for genre fans this is one ferocious underground throwback worth putting forth the effort to see.
Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)