Wednesday, August 17, 2016

'Blood Father' review

After a series of awful remarks that landed him in some very hot water in Hollywood, Oscar-winning actor/director Mel Gibson pretty much disappeared for a while. Aside from a role in The Expendables 3 and a few other smaller flicks, the work of the filmmaker behind Braveheart hasn't been seen in a long time. Gibson is attempting to make something of a comeback this year, with two new projects hitting theaters over the course of 2016. His directorial feature, Hacksaw Ridge, is gaining much more awards season traction with an upcoming Venice premiere, but before that World War II drama graces the silver screen, Gibson is heading back to B-movie territory with Blood Father. The story of a recovering alcoholic father hellbent on protecting his estranged daughter at any cost, this gritty, violent crime thriller almost feels like Gibson trying to atone for his past sins. It doesn't always work and the movie is far from unforgettable, but nonetheless, with some expert direction from Jean Francois-Richet and a committed performance by Gibson, Blood Father is a solid piece of old-school action entertainment.

After years of poor choices, alcoholic behavior, and a lengthy stint in jail, John Link (Gibson) is ready to hit the re-start button on his life. He's running a tattoo parlor out of his trailer, living in the same vicinity as his sponsor (William H. Macy), and avoiding booze. He's on the straight path, but he still misses his estranged daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), who went missing several years ago. Lydia ran away from her mother and disappeared, and after several searches, Link and his friends don't really know whether or not she's alive. But on one fateful day, Lydia comes back into Link's life in an unexpected way. She calls him in a panic, needing cash fast. Link drives all the way down to Santa Monica to pick her up, and he's stunned to see his daughter all grown up. It's an awkward re-connection at first, and Link still has plenty of questions about how she mysteriously popped back up.

It soon turns out that Lydia may be in some very serious trouble. While she's sleeping at his place, Link goes through her bag and finds a few unsavory items- a bottle of liquor, some cocaine, and a loaded handgun. Who is Lydia involved with? And what do they want with her? These are questions that keep rolling around in Link's head, but she just won't give him any answers. That changes after a group of gang members attack Link's trailer, firing round after round and even plowing their SUV into the brittle structure. It turns out that Lydia's boyfriend is a top drug dealer in the cartel, and in a moment of panic, she accidentally killed him. The cartel and a powerful sicario are on the hunt for her, and at the start of the movie, her situation is pretty dire. But not if Link has anything to say about it. Bursting with an uncontrollable rage, this father becomes determined to protect his daughter at any and all costs. Even if it means his own death or his return to a jail cell, Link is going to fight to the bitter end.

This is an undeniably great vehicle for Mel Gibson to show off his "particular set of skills" (to quote another father-daughter action flick), and he gives a very good performance in Blood Father. He's able to pull off the angry, rage-filled action stuff, but Gibson also manages to have some tender and sweet moments with co-star Erin Moriarty. I liked the arc that Link took over the course of the movie, and it all finishes with a great emotional payoff. Moriarty matches up with Gibson well, and after she delivered a strong supporting turn recently in Captain Fantastic, she's definitely gotta be at the top of Hollywood casting lists. To top it all off, I liked the charisma and B-movie chops of William H. Macy, Diego Luna, and especially Michael Parks in their minimal roles, with all three bringing their pulpy best to the table.

Director Jean-Francois Richet is best known for the 2005 remake of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, and honestly, I don't see Blood Father being the film that helps him hit the big time. However, that's very unfortunate, because he's an incredibly talented filmmaker. Blood Father is quite inspired at times and I was impressed with some of his directorial choices in this film. Richet is stylish and visually oriented, with a palette dominated by soft oranges and sun-soaked desert landscapes. There's a shot early in this film that is positively Tarantino-esque in its pop violence contrast, and I loved the energy that Richet brought to each frame. If he ever manages to squeeze in another big Hollywood break, I can definitely see Richet working with the same kind of genre fare that has made Jaume Collet-Serra a hugely successful director.

Blood Father's biggest problem is that it's an inherently slight and forgettable film. It pretty much evaporated from my mind as soon as I exited the theater, and despite being impressed by the filmmaking on display, I can't say that any scenes pop out in my mind as especially memorable or thrilling. The story is standard, well-worn territory, and there are just a few too many subplots bouncing around during this 88 minute film. This leads to some inevitable underdevelopment, and it's easy to pick holes in the narrative of the film. These aren't huge issues on their own, but put them all together and it contributes to Blood Father being a decent film, not a great one.

Ultimately, with some flashy directorial verve and a pair of top-notch performances from Gibson and Moriarty, Blood Father is a modestly entertaining action flick that more or less delivers the goods. It's not a film that too many people will remember at the end of the year, but for a quick slice of summer pulp, you can't really go wrong here. It's grimy and violent with some crackerjack action scenes and a little dash of heart for good measure- so yeah, it ticks all the action movie boxes. I'm still confident that Mel Gibson's big return to cinema is a few months away with Hacksaw Ridge on the horizon (they were testing the movie at my local multiplex last night), but for fans of the multi-hyphenate, Blood Father is a ride worth taking.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B-                                             (6.7/10)

Images courtesy of Lionsgate Films

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