Movie Review: ‘Blood Father’


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Plot:  Ex-con and alcoholic John Link (Mel Gibson) runs a tattoo business out of his trailer.  Solitary, with his lone friend and sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy) for company, Link seems content to live a quiet existence.  However, when his missing daughter suddenly reappears, John’s life is upended.  Turns out daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) has been running with a dangerous group including boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna) a cartel connected drug dealer.  When Lydia accidentally kills Jonah, she turns to her father for help,  John must once again delve into his criminal connections if he wishes to save his daughter.

Review:  Aw man I missed you Mel!

After his well documented public shenanigans, Mel Gibson’s career has been decidedly rocky.  The Oscar winner hasn’t directed a film in a decade (although that will end with this November’s Hacksaw Ridge) and aside from a few minor roles (The Expendables 3), Gibson hasn’t been a headliner in a film since 2012’s Get the Gringo.  Thankfully, Gibson’s cinematic absence was worth the wait as director Jean Francois-Richet’s (Assault on Precinct 13) film is a true return to form for the much maligned actor.

From the opening moments of Blood Father where John addresses his AA group, until the final moments of the film, Gibson commands the screen.  Riveting may sound like hyperbole but it’s not.  Sporting an epic black and white beard and a craggy face that highlights all of Gibson’s sixty years of age, ole Mel brings an intensity and dark humor to John Link that captivates and chills at the same time.  While the “ex-con trying to change his ways” is a decidedly well-worn trope, Gibson somehow manages to breathe new life into an old idea.  Link is a man who’s made so many mistakes in his life, most of them driven by alcohol, and knows he’ll never be able to right them all.  I think it’s not a stretch to say that the reason Mel exudes so much honesty and pathos through Link stems directly from his own public battles with alcoholism.  He’s clearly drawing from his past and it works perfectly.

Link’s biggest regret is his non-existent relationship with his daughter Lydia.  Absent for most of her life due to his alcoholism and ties  to the criminal underworld, Link gets a second chance, when Lydia walks back into his life.  What’s fascinating is that despite the dangerous circumstances, Link still sees their escapades as a way to build an actual relationship with his daughter even if it’s unconventional.  In fact at one point Link even tells Lydia that their adrenaline fueled adventure is the most fun he’s had since he was fifteen.

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Moriarty shines as Gibson’s teenage daughter Lydia.  Fans of the show Jessica Jones will recognize Lydia as the troubled girl Hope Shlottman.  Despite her young age, Moriarty holds her own and then some with Gibson.  She delivers a startling performance as Lydia, somehow managing to balance a sense of naivete and jaded world weariness with vulnerability.  Despite his shortcomings, Lydia slowly realizes how much she has in common with her Dad and how much she actually loves him.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the supporting cast.  William H. Macy’s Kirby proves a good balance for Gibson.  The even tempered Kirby only results to extremes when absolutely necessary unlike the sometimes hot-headed Link.  Despite his loner attitude, deep down Link considers Kirby a true friend and not just a sponsor.  It’s just unfortunate we didn’t get to see more of Macy, one of the truly great and underrated acting talents of our generation.  Thomas Mann (Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl) also has a small but crucial part as a night hotel manager.

However, the real show stopper is long time character actor Michael Parks.  Parks plays John Link’s one time gang leader Preacher.  Parks steals every scene he’s in.  The only way to describe Parks’ performance is formidable.  Two scenes in particular standout.  One involves Parks telling Lydia that no matter where she goes she’ll always attract a certain kind of scumbag into her life.  Parks just oozes disdain in the scene.  But the coup de grace involves a confrontation between Link and Preacher where old grievances are aired in an electrifying way.  It’s been awhile since we got a crazy Mel face on screen but oh man do we get one here.

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While some may see Blood Father as a straightforward and simplistic thriller/action film, I disagree.  Yes it is those things with director Francois-Richet providing several excellent action sequences such as a shootout at Link’s trailer and the climactic scene in the mountains, however the film is so much more.  Screenwriters Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig incorporate several moments of poignant introspection regarding deeper themes of familial relationships, the ability of people to change, how certain personalities attract specific people, and even a social commentary about how people make money off the ignorance and bigotry of others.  Blood Father truly operates on more than one level.  Yet despite these heavy themes, Francois-Richet always keeps the pace focused and fast.  At a tight 88 minutes, the director leaves little time for Blood Father to lag.

As great as Blood Father was it could have been excellent.  The film is hampered by lacking a clear-cut villain and Luna’s Jonah is a decidedly weak character.  Furthermore, the twist is somewhat expected and the closing minutes of the movie descend into unneeded melodrama.

Regardless these minor peccadilloes don’t take away from the fact that the acting performances are stellar.  It’s the best acting by Mel Gibson since Braveheart and hopefully, along with Hacksaw Ridge, this marks the start of a strong comeback from Mr. Gibson.

 

My rating:  8.5/10

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