At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Blood Father “2016”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Action Crime Thriller/Stars: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna, Thomas Mann, Dale Dickey, Michael Parks, Daniel Moncada, Raoul Trujillo, Richard Cabral, Miguel Sandoval, Ryan Dorsey/Runtime: 88 minutes

I think it can be safely said that a long, long time ago when the iconic, in more ways than one, actor Mel Gibson was first getting his start, he had quite a few advantages in his favor. Chief among them natural talent, dashing looks, and a charm that could be either sneaky or ruthless depending on the part. Put another way: the man checked off all the right boxes for what it takes to be a star of cinema plain and simple. Yet even with those attributes in mind, there was one thing about Mel that was quite distinct. That was of course his choice of movies in which he chose to appear in. Indeed slices of cinematic pie like “The Bounty”, “The Year of Living Dangerously”, and of course the first 3 “Mad Max” movies are slices of cinematic pie that fit into a specific genre or 2, but which were lively and had more than just a hint of intelligence about them that resulted in movies that were delightfully as far gone from run of the mill as you could get. Along with that was the fact that Gibson seemed to have some very wonderful collaborative partners with film helmers George Miller and Peter Weir who were responsible for at least 4 of the previously mentioned 5 slices of cinematic pie. Indeed be it just mere coincidence that this trinity were all up and comers in the, at the time, growing Aussie film industry or if Mel was just a more selective than people might have given him credit for actor wasn’t the point. The point was that in terms of how it was viewed by the filmmaking community it looked really good on his part. Plus if you think this trend of giving us distinct performances on typical archetypes was bucked once he got into Hollywood, it’s also worth pointing out that when Gibson made the big transition courtesy of the first Lethal Weapon he did, even then, give audiences a quite distinct interpretation of the no holds barred cop hero archetype. Of course along with all of this praise and patting on the back, I also feel that by the same token I should not have to recap for you dear reader the personal issues of Mr. Gibson’s that, when made public, put him and the prospects of him finding work in a professional limbo so to speak. At the same time though, I can guess correctly that if you saw that Gibson was starring in the action thriller I am reviewing today, 2016’s Blood Father, you might suspect that Gibson was trying to some extent to make his way out of Hollywood Limbo via the Nicolas Cage method aka make as many direct to video pieces of drivel as he can before one gets enough critical love that Hollywood decides to give him another chance at making his way back onto the proverbial A-List. Thankfully, I can safely say that (at least with this slice of cinematic pie) this is most assuredly not the case. Indeed running in at a trim, lean, and mean 2 minutes shy of an hour and a half, Blood Father from French film helmer Jean-François Richet is a potent, effective, and enjoyable deadbeat father tries to do right by his long-absent daughter narrative that gifts Gibson with the chance to flex his slightly scarred-up acting muscles and show that, when you take away the controversy surrounding him, the man can still be quite the riveting performer with the right material which this thankfully is and then some.

The plot is as follows: Blood Father tells the story of an enigmatic, hardened, and slightly gruff man by the name of John Link who, when we first meet him, we learn that he has been out of jail for a little while now and is a reformed alcoholic who spends his days working as a tattoo artist and living in a desolate trailer park in the deserts of California. However when he one day out of the blue receives a terrified phone call from a daughter that he had long thought gone for good begging him for some cash and some aid, we see our crusty hero, against the reservations of his sponsor/loyal friend Kirby, break his long-honored parole and go to pick her up. However, not long after the two make their way back to his trailer, they find themselves accosted by a trinity of ruthless hoods who for some reason have a serious bone to pick with Lydia. As a result of this, and the altercation that follows, we see this father-daughter duo who are for all intents and purposes strangers to one another having to flee from both the cops as well as a hitman who was sent by the cartel. Thus as they go to a few of John’s old pals for assistance in their attempts to stay alive, we will see that Lydia begins to learn more about who her dad is and who he once was whilst John learns more about why there is a target on his daughter’s back and who is responsible for putting it there. Suffice it to say that, despite their estrangement, it will be up to this long out of the loop father to do whatever he can to keep his daughter safe no matter what the cost.

Now right off the bat I think praise must be given to this slice of cinematic pie for having the guts to do everything in its power to by and large make its way around what is to be expected from thrillers where an estranged father sets out to protect his daughter at all costs much like the Taken movies for example courtesy of making the daughter a little bit of a trouble maker in her own right. In the case of Link’s daughter Lydia, this is one kid who has been stuck for a long time in a truly messed up set of circumstances plus she is also very much a drugs and booze addict so when we see Link come back into her life after all this time to keep her safe he also takes on a bit of a rehab assignment as well. That and it’s refreshing to see a hero in one of these movies who isn’t exactly a walking ATM and certainly is not the kind of guy who has a whole collection of guns hidden all over the place in case of a situation like this. Rather, this is a guy that for a long stretch of this film is only able to make it as far as he does based off a combination of prior experience, knowledge, and just plain wits and even a lot of that has been jumbled up by both the passage of time and his shock from his little girl suddenly coming back into his life after all this time. Plus I also really liked the distinct choice to have both parent and child be able to hurl 4-letter words at each other and neither one call the other out for being impolite as if to show whether they fully realize it or not they really are alike in a lot of ways. Of course that’s not to say though that Link is the kind of father who just lets people walk over him or his little girl. The best example of this is when father and daughter check in to a motel at one point, and the slightly bug eyed young man running the desk asks with a degree of slight lechery “Where’d you find her?” only to be shut up promptly by Gibson and his response of “In the delivery room”. Yet it’s not so much what he says in response as it is in both how he says it and how he looks whilst saying it as we are able to see that with just the tone in his voice and the glare in those hawk-like eyes of his that he would have no problem just putting a pause in what he is currently doing and, in a matter of distinct ways at that, completely and utterly wipe the floor with this punk if he so much as tries him or gives him a reason to.

Now in terms of casting this slice of cinema pie does a phenomenal job of giving us actors who, although by and large are not the biggest names in the world, are still top-notch performers who fit their parts fairly well. This of course starts with Mel Gibson and he is just downright phenomenal in this role. Indeed like I said at the beginning of this review you can say what you will about the man and his personal life, but there is no denying that with the right material this is one of the most riveting performers the land of movie magic managed to acquire in the past 4 decades. Suffice it to say this movie is one of those that is definitely the “right material”. Yet this performance is also distinct in that this one, very much in the same vein as The Beaver from 2011 and Edge of Darkness from 2010, is one that really gives Mel a chance to engage in cinematic catharsis and kind of channel creatively and constructively the demons that have plagued his professional and personal life for a while now. Yet lest you think this performance is just Mel engaging in cinematic penance for his various sins, this is also a performance that comes equipped with not only a genuine arc and pathos especially when it comes to his relationship with his daughter and trying to keep her from going any further down the rabbit hole than she already has, but also that riveting and arresting fury that fans of this man have come to expect whenever he takes part in this film’s fairly potent action beats including one scene where he actually pulls a Mike Tyson on a guy (and if you don’t know what I’m referring to then boy are you in for a surprise). Suffice it to say it is one heck of a performance and shows that time and circumstances certainly haven’t weathered away all the acting muscle in Gibson’s arsenal by any means. Now working alongside Gibson in this slice of cinematic pie is a phenomenally well-cast group of support players who not only do a great job with their respective parts, but who also add a wonderful degree of credibility to Gibson’s roaring quest for survival and vengeance and when I saying roaring I mean it in the most literal sense possible. In the role of Link’s neighbor, friend, and AA sponsor Kirby we get the always wonderful William H. Macy who does a great job in about 30-35 minutes of screen time of being the conscience a film like this so desperately needs. We also get top-flight work in a limited part from Diego Luna as the main antagonist of the movie even if his crew is nowhere near as fleshed out as they deserve to be and from The Boys on Amazon we get a wonderful turn from Erin Moriarty who in her role as John’s daughter Lydia, is the other portion of heart at the core of this film as she gives us a character that is yes making up for lost time with her estranged dad, but who is constantly torn between letting him help her and just taking off on her own because she feels she’s bringing him down with her at every given turn.

All in all if you have been on the hunt for a good old fashioned thrill ride, a chance to see Mel Gibson go angry like back in the day and give a vicious and merciless beat down to some thugs again, or both then I am proud to say that Blood Father most assuredly is a slice of cinematic pie you will want to check out. Yes there are some flaws to be found in this film, but this is still a riveting and engaging chance to see a screen icon go back to basics albeit with the passage of time attached and give us a film that will immediately make you smile in how much it really feels like some of his best efforts. Suffice it to say that thanks to wonderful work behind the camera, some terrific wrinkles in the narrative to help distinguish this from the pack of similar slices of cinematic pie like it, and some truly amazing performances in front of the camera especially from the aforementioned Gibson, Blood Father is one thrill ride you will want to watch time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give Blood Father a solid 3.5 out of 5.