Blood Father is yet another entry into the Aged-Action-Star-Still-Kicks-Ass subgenre (see the Taken franchise, RED movies, Expendables silliness), proving that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks – and you might not have to.
Mel Gibson grows out his best Grizzly Adams beard and talks with a throat full a gravel, going the “ex-con with a heart of gold” route to brutally enjoyable extremes. Torn from the pages of Peter Craig’s adapted novel is a bloody, thug-riddled story of one father’s love knowing no bounds; sweet in sentiments, and salty in its gritty retribution. It’s nothing tremendously inventive, but director Jean-François Richet still paints a vengeful portrait of California livin’ in the scumminess of society’s underbelly – and the things we’d do to ensure our loved ones escape.
Gibson stars as “Link,” a sober ex-criminal who spent most of his life drinking, fighting and all the other dirtiness in-between. Link now spends his days earning AA chips, messing with his sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy) and working out of his trailer as a tattoo artist. That’s until his estranged daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), calls up asking for $2K so she can run away from her problems. Instead of handing over the large sum of dough, Link picks up Lydia and takes her back home to sober and straighten her up. Unfortunately, Lydia’s problems follow close-behind in the form of vicious thugs, as Link soon finds just how much trouble his daughter is in.
At this point, the race is on. Link throws Lydia in his beat-up old muscle car (although the “muscles” are a bit deflated), and a chase begins that almost poses Gibson’s character as a years-later version of Max Rockatansky. Link does crazy shit like whip around his motorcycle with shotgun-in-hand, blowing away advancing pursuers all while Lydia grabs on for dear life. It’s a familiar look for Gibson, and one that he wears well – covered in dirt, littered with expletives and almost cartoonish in its masculinity. That’s not to say he’s only a scene-chewing ass-kicker either, because in Gibson’s own zany way, Link’s love for Lydia dives deeper than calloused skin and gunsmoke. Gibson goes full-force protector, managing to hit the right notes both emotionally (“I’ll be back before you turn blonde!”) and physically (re: dead bodies).
Surrounding Gibson are many of the same genre supporting players we’ve seen before, from “quirky and devoted best friend” (William H. Macy) to “random Sicario Grim Reaper” (Raoul Max Trujillo). Everyone plays their parts as they should, and – more importantly – stays out of Gibson’s way until entirely necessary. That’s including daughter Lydia – played by Erin Moriarty – who posses a very capable independence despite finding herself the victim of deathly poor judgement. Wait, I take it back – Michael Parks is on Gibson’s level, as an old-timer white supremacist who acts as Link’s father figure of sorts, but everyone else is merely playing their expected turns. Not necessarily a bad thing, but this makes Blood Father a bit more pedestrian. Sometimes you need a little more than tattoos to build characterization.
Richet (of Mesrine and Assault Of Precinct 13 remake fame) is no stranger to action, so surprises come in the form of Link and Lydia’s banter. Shoot-outs and chases are emphatically set against a hazy, dust-kicking desert landscape, but it’s the relationship between father-and-daughter that surprisingly leaves a more lasting impression.
Funny little asides like Link counting up his parole offenses during an early gunfight after Lydia first arrives, or more meaningful, rage-y outbursts when Link comes down on his drugged-out daughter out of frustrated love. Link’s teachings are from the school of hard knocks, toeing a no-bullshit line that’s rooted in best intentions, and never goofily wedged into a more muscle-bound story.
The best part of Blood Father – for me at least – is that Mel Gibson looks like he’s having ball in every scene. The character of Link comes easy to this grizzled genre veteran, as he blasts his way through most problems while wearing vigilant, angel’s wings. It’s Gibson’s energy that carries Jean-François Richet through most scenes, dictated by an enraged “hero” doubling as a helicopter parent armed with guns and ammunition. I’m not saying violence can be fun, but this is the type of streamlined shoot-em-up we love to root for – plain and simple. Kudos to Gibson for continuing his wild reign of personal enjoyment (Get The Gringo, Machete Kills, The Expendables 3), because when an actor has this much fun, chances are the audience will too. Case and point…
Blood Father is a funny, gritty action thriller that gets the action right, and still has some blood-soaked sentiments worth the "devoted father" storytelling.