Film Review: Blood Father

Mel Gibson makes a brilliant return to the revenge-thriller genre with a surprisingly strong effort.
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These days, the sad state of the action genre is epitomized by movies usurped by big-budget, FX-driven set-pieces, rather than the visceral on-set stunts and characters that created such big stars in the ’80s and ’90s. One such star was Mel Gibson, the veritable king of the revenge thriller since starring in George Miller’s original Mad Max, and it’s good to have him back doing what he does best.

In Blood Father, Gibson plays John Link, an ex-convict living in a broken-down trailer and giving tattoos to earn money, when his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) turns up with the drug cartel on her tail. We first meet Lydia as she’s buying ammunition (at Walmart, of course) for her criminal boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna). When a home-invasion crime goes horribly wrong, she ends up running to her father for help, but when the cartel comes after her for some missing funds, they don’t realize what they’ve gotten themselves into by going against John Link’s blood.

Directed by Jean-François Richet (Mesrine, Assault on Precinct 13), Blood Father couldn’t have a simpler premise, and it never strives to be anything more than a fun action movie. And yet, it’s a film with a surprising amount of heart and emotion, which is often rare or forced in this type of thriller.

A lot of that has to do with how good Gibson is, and that’s because it’s a role perfectly suited for him that doesn’t veer too far from his most popular characters while allowing him to use his advanced years to give his hero more of a world-weariness. It’s also surprisingly amusing, because Gibson is still good at delivering a gruff one-liner even when in danger; he creates a fun character, even if some of the humor is of a darker nature. Granted, a movie like this is rarely meant to be taken seriously, but Gibson is particularly strong in his quieter scenes with Moriarty. When Link has a serious talk with his daughter about why she should want to stay alive, it gives both characters far more depth.

While it’s close to 30 minutes before it gets into any real action, the fighting is fairly violent, and once John and Lydia hit the road with the cartel behind them, that’s when Blood Father turns into the thrilling action movie some may be hoping for. Richet has come a long way since his remake of Assault on Precinct 13, and Blood Father is more on par with his French-language films, because he’s especially good at creating tension in every situation.

That’s balanced with lighter moments with William H. Macy as John’s friend and AA sponsor Kirby and Michael Parks as an oddball character they meet while trying to escape. Many of these supporting characters only appear briefly, so that the focus remains firmly on John and Lydia, as it should be.

You have to give some credit to screenwriters Peter Craig (The Town)—adapting his own 2005 novel—and Andrea Berloff, for knowing how to write for this genre, combining just the right amount of grit and humor. It’s not a perfect script, and sometimes it feels like the actors would prefer to chew the scenery with their own expletive-filled renditions of dialogue than stay on the page, but even that’s fun to watch.

Despite the formula at work here, there are still plenty of surprises and the film ends up being quite moving, mainly because the filmmakers have created a rare situation where you really like all the characters.

A fine return to form for Mel Gibson, Blood Father may end up being one of the better action movies of the year. It works well without ever trying too hard to be something that it’s not.

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