BLOOD FATHER

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jean-Francois Richet

Stars: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H Macy, Michael Parks, Miguel Sandoval, Diego Luna, Dale Dickey, Raoul Max Trujillo.
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This gritty and brutal action thriller is a pulp tale of redemption and an interesting father/daughter dynamic, and it marks a return to form of sorts for troubled actor Mel Gibson. He has had smaller roles playing the over the top villain in films like Machete Kills and The Expendables 3, but this is his first leading role since 2011’s Get The Gringo.
Gibson stars a Link, an ex-con and former alcoholic who ekes out a living as a tattoo artist in a seedy trailer park in the middle of the Californian dustbowl. He attends group counselling sessions and engages in banter with his sponsor Kirby (William H Macy) who lives in the same trailer park. In one counselling session he talks about how he has let a lot of people down and how hard it is to regain their trust, which sounds like a “mea culpa” for his own recent lapses and fall from grace.
Then he is contacted by his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty, from The Watch, the forthcoming Captain Fantastic, etc), who went missing four years ago. During that time she has fallen in with the wrong crowd and is now on the run from a vicious Mexican drug cartel after shooting her boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), the son of a ruthless cartel boss. She pleads for Link’s help, asking for him to lend her $2000 so she can get a new start.
Link agrees to meet Lydia, and the couple soon find themselves in a dangerous situation, pursued by vicious members of the cartel and a quiet but deadly and heavily tattooed Sicario enforcer (played by Raoul Max Trujillo, who appeared in the Gibson directed Apocalypto).
The director is French filmmaker Jean-Francois Richet, who made the powerful true crime drama Mesrine and also helmed the effective remake of John Carpenter’s cult classic Assault On Precinct 13, and here he brings a gritty, almost bleak European style to the material. He stages the action old school style without the aid of elaborate CGI effects, and the film is all the better for it. Richet maintains the energy level and captures the grindhouse aesthetic. The visceral action sequences have been tightly edited by Steven Rosenblum (Braveheart, Blood Diamond, etc).
Blood Father is a lean mean action movie with a high body count. It runs for a brisk, tight 88 minutes and there is little flab in the screenplay. There is also some grim gallows humour throughout, especially in one scene when Link adds up all the parole violations he is facing when cartel gunmen attack his trailer.
The film is based on a novel by Peter Craig (The Town, etc), who has adapted the book for the screen, along with co-script writer Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton, etc). There are plenty of chases and shootouts that give the material a vaguely familiar feel, and some of the plotting may remind audiences of Taken. But the action plays out against the backdrop of  harsh, stark desert locations, which have been superbly shot by Richet’s regular cinematographer Robert Gantz. His stylish cinematography and warm sun drenched  palette gives the film the look and feel of a modern day western.
And although the action sequences may smack of familiarity it is the prickly relationship between the grizzled Link and his troubled daughter that resonates strongly. There is some great chemistry between Gibson and Moriarty. With his full grey beard, gnarled visage, weathered countenance and world weary attitude, Gibson is perfectly cast as the burnt out case seeking redemption. This is his first leading role for some years, and he embraces it with gusto. He swears like a trooper. He seems to be having a lot of fun here, he brings a lot of energy to his masculine and macho performance and he seems to have a twinkle in his eye at times. His character has a dangerous manic edge that seems like a combination of his Mad Max outlaw and Lethal Weapon’s Martin Riggs.
Moriarty brings a feisty quality to her performance as Lydia, but she also infuses the character with a touch of vulnerability.
All of the characters here are flawed, and Richet has assembled a strong ensemble cast to bring them to life. Macy is good and brings gravitas to his small role as Kirby. Michael Parks (from the offbeat Tusk, etc) brings a wonderful hint of menace to his performance as the Preacher, a white supremacist and former biker friend of Link’s, who now sells Nazi memorabilia via the internet.
But despite his strong performance and some tough action sequences, Blood Father is only gaining a limited cinema release, probably because there is a perception out there that Gibson is still damaged goods. In fact, Blood Father is a strong addition to his body of work and shows that, on screen, he still has plenty of charisma and is eminently watchable. Other actors like Rob Lowe and Robert Downey jr have fallen from grace in their careers but made great comebacks, so can Gibson do the same? Is Blood Father enough to prove that Gibson is back as a force on screen, or will we have to wait for his next directorial effort with the war film Hacksaw Ridge, which has been garnering some early positive notices, to declare his comeback complete?

★★★☆

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