Leading man roles have been hard to come by for Mel Gibson in recent years. Scandalous off screen behaviour has been well documented in the media and this has undoubtedly impacted his career. On the evidence of Blood Father though, there’s more than a chance of renaissance. Gibson’s performance here is outstanding, recalling the unhinged brilliance of his revered roles in Mad Max and Lethal Weapon. The film also boasts a solid supporting cast, strong script and confident direction. These are all contributing factors to what is an entertaining, coherent and well executed action flick.
Gibson stars as John Link, an ex-con loner existing on the fringes of society. His daily trailer park routine as a tattoo artist and recovering alcoholic is depressingly mundane. Events take a turn when his estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarity) enlists his assistance after finding herself embroiled with a dangerous Mexican drug cartel. Buoyed by the opportunity to redeem himself as a father and to give his life renewed purpose, Link throws himself into the perilous task of protecting his daughter. While the stakes are high and the risks monumental, Link is more than up to the challenge. As the bullets fly he declares, “This shit is a party to a dirt bag like me.” It’s a superbly delivered line which sums up the appeal of the character and captures the mood of the film perfectly.
While the plot is somewhat formulaic, the film succeeds due to a number of finely blended ingredients. It’s beautifully shot and evokes a potent sense of place. From the dusty trailer park to seedy Sacramento streets, director Jean-François Richet (Assault on Precict 13) makes great use of his locations. A sun bleached palette gives the film a palpable sense of heat and urgency which compliments the narrative’s pot boiling tension, while the sparse, barren landscape that Link inhabits is a perfect representation of his character’s desolation. The script by Peter Craig (based on his novel) and Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) is tightly constructed, well paced and blessed with sharp wit and snappy dialogue. The film comes in at 88 minutes and works well within the confines of this paltry running time.
While Gibson is the focal point, the rest of the cast are impressive also. Moriarity (True Detective) is brilliant as off the rails wild child Lydia. She shares a considerable amount of screen time with Gibson and the pair work off each other superbly, ensuring that the father-daughter relationship at the heart of the film is immersive and well conveyed. William H. Macy (Fargo) plays a small but effective role as Link’s sponsor and fellow trailer park dweller Kirby, while Miguel Sandoval (Entourage) is a commanding screen presence as Mexican jailbird Arturo Rios. The villains of the piece are well represented with Diego Luna (Milk) providing a suitably sleazy and detestable turn as Lydia’s boyfriend Jonah,while Tarantino regular Michael Parks (Django Unchained) is captivating and menacing as Link’s former comrade turned nemesis, Preacher.
It’s Gibson’s film though. We are reminded why he is one of modern action film’s most iconic stars. He injects a physical presence and emotional weight to his character which is up there with his most memorable big screen moments. Blood Father doesn’t break any new ground in terms of storytelling, but it certainly breaks plenty of bones. A gritty, violent, visceral thriller peppered with well drawn characters and a wicked sense of humour. Well worth a watch.