Mel Gibson, eh? He’s a bit of a lad. An action hero with genuine acting chops, a hit with the ladies, a writer, a director, and a man with any number of successes and awards to his name. Then it all went a bit wrong. Since then, Gibson’s career has been on an upwards trajectory again. Sure, the kids don’t really know him and he hasn’t donned a cape or CG suit to go arsing about with the rest of the Marvel cowboys but he has been at it from the 70s and not a decade has passed without him contributing to a masterpiece of some sort. Gibson returned to acting acclaim with the little seen Jodie Foster film The Beaver followed by a strong of commendable action flicks, all culminating in Hacksaw Ridge – a successful return to directing. Blood Father was released in the same year and is another violent and grim outing for the star and isn’t without a certain sly sense of humour and style.
The film opens by following a junkie girl buying a bunch of ammunition at a gun store – her boyfriend is part of a Latino gang and they are heading to wipe out a family they believe stole from them. Lydia is offered a gun and forced to stand watch, interacting with a couple of kids at the property until her boyfriend Jonah asks her to prove her loyalty and love by killing one of the tenants. Refusing, the accidentally shoots him and flees. Meanwhile, her ex con father John is living in a remote desert trailer park, keeping out of trouble and giving the locals tattoos. They have been estranged for a number of years, but when Lydia calls him he heads to pick her up, thus beginning a rekindling of their relationship as they flee across the country from cops, gangbangers, and bikers. Plot-wise there is nothing you haven’t seen before and on the surface it’s a straightforward action thriller. The quality is raised by having a terrific cast – Gibson as John lends a grizzled class and backstreet philosophy to the character, and William H Macy, Diego Luna, and Michael Parks lend credibility. Erin Moriarty gives another full-blooded performance as Lydia, a sly and messed up kid with an almost hopeless future and a worse past. Rounding out the group is Jean Francois Richet, a director known for handling action and tension well, but not someone who has directed regularly enough to become a household name.
Where Blood Father excels beyond expectations is in the little character moments – Gibson has a rapport with Moriarty and you get the sense that these characters exist in a tangible world with their frayed relationships and encounters. Gibson whips out his chopper (ahem) and travels the little known dusty trails of the US in search of ways to protect his daughter – turning both to ex convict pals still in prison and nazi-loving bikers. The characters are aware of the irony in turning to these groups for help, and the tongue in cheek delivery and tone downplays the hopelessness of it all, keeping things fun and fast moving. The action is never prolonged and follows a recent trend of rapid-fire set-pieces which get the point across with minimal fuss. From a trailer park shootout to a desert bike chase to the valley set climax, action is seen to be quick and bloody rather than stylized or glorified. Action fans may be disappointed that there isn’t enough of this, but the character pay-off makes up for any lack of action in my eyes.
Blood Father isn’t going to change anyone’s world or set a new precedent in the genre, but it is a reminder that Gibson is one of the industry’s greatest manic screen presences and can handle swathes of dialogue as well as a pistol or bike and it remains an entertaining romp with more style and class than most straight to DVD and a nice diversion from the billion dollar efforts which we can’t escape from on the big screen.