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Leaving aside all that we know about Mel Gibson, there is no escaping his impact on cinema. The very definition of the handsome action movie star, he has for decades produced entertaining and influential films. Arguably the originator of the aging unstoppable redeemer, with nods of appreciation to Liam Neeson, Gibson once again straps on his bulky badassery for a run at some very naughty people.
We meet Lydia (Erin Moriarty), a young, spindly girl at a big-box store buying several cases of bullets and a pack of bubble gum in a visual that pretty much sums up all we need to know. She asks for a some smokes too, but is denied because she has no ID to buy cigarettes. Get it? Social commentary made, things get real. Lydia gets in a car full of angry drug dealers who drive to a house they claim has their stolen money. To test her loyalty and love to her boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), the leader of the gang, he demands she shoot a woman they find inside and have held on the sofa. Lydia can’t and in the chaos, ends up shooting him instead.
On the run, thinking she killed him, she makes her way to John Link (Mel Gibson), her estranged father, now living in a dusty trailer park full of ex-cons, recovering alcoholics and sponsors. John’s been sober for two years, and is in his first year of parole when she shows up, still high on cocaine and more so, in shock. With some wrangling, he pieces together she is in some trouble, but that becomes all the more clear when a car pulls up to his beat up trailer loaded with three armed man who jump out and start shooting. His house in shambles, and he returning gunfire, Link decides no cop or judge will believe he’s not part it all and so takes his daughter on the run.
Directed by Jean-François Richet, written by Peter Craig and based on his own novel, Blood Father looks the part of the recent slew of older men with guns film trend, and returning to Neeson again, has a bit of the father/daughter thing going on that might make the casual observer think they know what it’s already about, but there are differences enough to set it apart. That starts with Lydia. This girl is not the angelic child who is yanked from her shiny protected life but rather a real troubled daughter with a whole napsack of serious issues. Much like her father. This leads to some unique banter and relationship hurdles for the pair that creates a somewhat fresh dynamic to the recent cliché. Link too is not a man so readily able to protect either. He has no immediate weaponry or skills to call upon when the trouble starts, and is reduced to luck and wit initially.
The movie does best with its slow burn, building to its middle and final act. We meet a man named Preacher (Michael Park), a former compatriot of Link, who lives out in the desert with a community of bikers, selling Nazi paraphernalia and preaching about the corporatization of the rebel lifestyle. Things kick up and it is from here where Blood Father truly finds its footing and leads us to a taunt, violent ending that is anything but expected yet still feels well-earned.
Much of that is credited to Gibson who harnesses a lot of the Gibson of yesteryear but gives it a new edge that is tempered, even vulnerable. Whatever his demons are, and however he deals with them, he is still a gifted actor, it’s nearly impossible not to think on what’s become of him and not view this film as a kind of personal reflection. Blood Father is not a perfect film, and suffers slightly from an awkward early script and the utter waste of William H. Macy playing Link’s only true friend, but delivers nonetheless.
Director: Jean-François Richet
Writers: Peter Craig, Andrea Berloff
Stars: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, William H. Macy, Miguel Sandoval