“You can’t be a prick all your life and then say ‘never mind,'” laments Mel Gibson’s character of John Link, and it’s almost impossible not to feel at least some of the filmmaker’s own resignation in that statement. BLOOD FATHER represents something of a comeback for Gibson, but not necessarily in the way you’d think. In his first leading role since 2012’s Get the Gringo, the Jean-François Richet directed film is a return to the hyper energy that this former action hero once dominated.
After John’s daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) gets mixed up with a bad gang led by her boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), she seeks out her estranged father when everything goes horribly pear-shaped. A recovering alcoholic and an ex-con, John’s reluctance to go back to prison is trumped by his twin loves for his daughter and for the shenanigans that ensue. Using skills learned from years as a biker gang member and a war vet, the gangs might have picked the wrong old man to mess with.
As a straightforward action narrative, BLOOD FATHER follows many of the conventions of the genre without deviation. At a taut 88 minutes, it’s a rapid-fire series of blunt moments, double-crosses and shoot outs, turning into U-Turn by way of Mad Max as it enters road flick territory. Working from Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff’s script, and based on the novel of the same name by Craig, Richet systematically ticks off a whole lot of conventions, but he does them with the highest of respect and care for those elements.
As a showcase for Gibson, introduced with a full grey beard and sun-weathered skin, its an exemplar of his effortless angst. Channelling the unhinged qualities of Lethal Weapon into the pure rage of an ex-biker, we watch Gibson turn on a dime, whether he’s losing his senses over finding drugs in Lydia’s belongings, or opening a can of whoop-ass. Covered in tattoos and a surly attitude, he even makes a few anti-immigration comments, always reminding us that Link is definitely not a nice guy.
BLOOD FATHER is a gorgeously shot film, with Richet utilising his regular cinematographer Robert Gantz (Assault on Precinct 13, Mesrine) to elevate the desert’s natural beauty. Shot in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gantz takes shots as simple as a caravan framed against the cloud-strewn sky and makes it impossible to look away. Richet peppers his film with a solid cast of supporting players. Michael Parks, seen lately in Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino outings, is wonderfully slimy as the biker leader who sells Nazi and Confederate memorabilia online. While criminally underused, it’s also terrific to see the versatile William H. Macy as Link’s sponsor.
There’s not going to be any major wards for originality for BLOOD FATHER, but it rips along at an intense pace that rarely pauses for breath. Parks’ character quips that “society takes the rebels and turns them into fashion trends,” and while Gibson may be a few steps removed from his own glory days of stardom, here he takes his knocks and raises a weary middle finger to doubters that he will return to the limelight.
2016 | US | DIR: Jean-François Richet | WRITERS: Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff (Based on novel by Peter Craig) | CAST: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, William H. Macy | DISTRIBUTOR: Icon Films (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes