Not making any excuses for Mel Gibson's actions that derailed his career, but it's truly sad that we've been deprived of him as a leading man for so long. Blood Father is a great example of what we've been missing. While he's played villains in The Expendables 3 and Machete Kills, and starred in Get the Gringo which nobody saw, this marks his first major starring turn since The Beaver. And as his comeback begins to take shape with his upcoming directorial effort, Hacksaw Ridge, we have to include Blood Father as a key step in his return to prominence.
Blood Father is a gritty, lean, muscular B-movie that you might expect to find from someone like Jim Mickle. Instead it comes from European filmmaker Jean-Francois Richet, previously known for the amazing two-part crime saga Mesrine. And if you thought he did badass work there he's even better here, bringing his foreign perspective to a distinctly American action flick. Based on the novel by Peter Craig (who also wrote The Town for Ben Affleck) and Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton), the film stars Gibson as the minimally-named John Link, an ex-con with a violent past full of many personal demons. He's just trying his best to stay off the grid and out of trouble. With his heavy grey beard, body covered in tattoos, and standoff-ish attitude, John is the kind of guy you just know not to mess with. Living out of his trailer in the California desert, eeking out a living as a tattoo artist, John's only communication with the outside world is through his AA sponsor (William H. Macy) who is more like a friend.
John has only one soft spot and that's for his estranged daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), who has been missing ever since his time in prison. When we first meet her she's buying literally hundreds of bullets (Ironically, she can't get cigarettes though! Commentary!!!) for her boyfriend (Diego Luna), a Mexican drug dealer about to do some dirt. But when things go wrong, it's Lydia who is in their crosshairs and the only person she can think to call is dear ol' Dad, who immediately comes to the rescue.
Of course it's not that simple, and the film is as much about the strained connection between John and Lydia as it is about fighting off waves of armed goons. She doesn't appear resentful towards he father for being abandoned so much as disappointed in the way he turned out, while he's just looking for a chance to be redeemed in her eyes. By any means necessary, even if that means killing the men who are trying to harm her, that's what John intends to do. Fortunately, John isn't portrayed as a saint who has forgotten where he came from. He's a bad dude with some ugly connections, like his old pal Preacher (Michael Parks), a fellow criminal who sells Nazi memorabilia online. In a tender moment, John shares with Lydia that being in the middle of all this death and violence again is the best time of his life, reminding of the way things used to be. Family values!!!
We forget how versatile Gibson used to be, jumping from dramatic pieces to spring-loaded action with ease, and Blood Father gives him a chance to do both. One minute he can be sharing a gentle moment with Moriarty, and in another he's in the middle of an armed standoff with tattooed mercenaries. The action isn't dominant but is effectively brutal, and since John is never portrayed as a superman we fear for his safety as well as Lydia's. Speaking of which, Moriarty has been consistently great since her breakout role in The Kings of Summer and she is more than a match for Gibson here. Normally the kid in these movies is so annoying you wonder why anybody would try to save them, but Moriarty makes us feel for Lydia, who truly is a lost soul in need of a little guidance.
While watching Blood Father I kept thinking of Taken, and how these "Dad saves the day" movies have become a genre unto themselves lately. To put it bluntly, Blood Father kicks Taken's ass any day. It's a sharp, economical action flick with a surprising amount of heart, with Gibson proving why he is still one of the best actors working today. The story may be familiar, but he, Moriarty, and Richet have found a way to elevate the material to a different level.
Rating: 4 out of 5