As you look at the grizzled, pistol brandishing Mel Gibson on Blood Father‘s gritty poster, the film you have in your head is likely to be pretty damn close to what is on the reel. This is something you’ve seen a hundred times before, there are no big twists or interesting conceits, this is an old-school low-mid budget action/thriller. But it’s not to say that Blood Father can’t surprise you. You may walk in expecting to roll your eyes at the worn-out plot and archetypal characters, but the entertaining dialogue and engaging leads charm you early on and turn Blood Father into a fun ride down a familiar road.
Blood Father drops you into the thick of it with Lydia (Erin Moriarty), a young girl caught up with a particularly dangerous crowd. Things go expectedly to shit very quickly, putting Lydia on the on the run and leaving her no choice but to seek refuge with her estranged father, Link (Mel Gibson). An ex-con parolee and recovering alcoholic living in a desert trailer, Link has put his criminal past behind him and is now living a peaceful (if lonely) life. When Lydia comes back into his life and the trouble she was in turns out to be of a much more dangerous kind that neither of them were prepared for, Link is forced to toss away the new life he has built and takes to the road to help Lydia escape.
While it’s got more tropes than you can throw an aging action-hero at, the script is peppered with humor and fun exchanges throughout it’s brisk run-time. Screenwriters Andrea Berloff and Peter Craig, the latter of whom is adapting his own book, give the leads more than enough personality and amusing banter to distract you from the dull plot. It’s not a comedy by any stretch of the imagination, but the script steadily drip-feeds clever ironies and darkly comedic beats to the audience to prevent the hard-boiled story from feeling too somber, all while enjoying a subtlety and restraint so as to not sacrifice the film’s rough-and-tumble world.
The good will the screenplay wins with the audience in these more light-hearted moments is thankfully not betrayed by an extended length or poor pacing. Blood Father progresses through its story with fluidity, keeping things moving from one status quo to the next and never overstaying its welcome. With such a cookie-cutter tale there isn’t a huge amount here to mine, but Berloff and Craig manage to wring a surprising amount of detail and character work out of the film’s 88 minutes. Blood Father doesn’t really take the time or effort to explore a lot of what it brushes up against, but in a movie like this, less is definitely more. These snippets make the world feel a bit richer and keep the viewers mind working long enough to keep their attention.
As solid as the execution is, there’s no getting around the fact that Blood Father is extremely uninspired in conception, and has the undeniable aroma of a straight-to-video action flick. Unless you’re desperate for a nostalgic hit of Gibson ass-kickery, there’s really nothing Blood Father has to win you over. It’s dependable as a quick action hit, but in an entertainment market as crowded as today’s that’s just not really enough.
Blood Father‘s best hope of winning an audience outside of the ‘there’s-nothing-else-on’ demographic would be with some exhilarating and inventive action. Sadly, director Jean-François Richet (Assault on Precinct 13, Mesrine Part 1 & 2) plays things very safe in this department. A neat (but short) motorcycle sequence and the final standoff manage to excite briefly, but they don’t quite thrill the way they really needed to and fade promptly from memory. There are a number of other smaller set-pieces sprinkled across the movie, but they’re pretty lackluster and it’s only through virtue of the leads and their respective characters that these scenes entertain at all.
As you’ve probably guessed from the trailers and posters, Blood Father really is Gibson’s show. Say what you want about the man, his presence on-screen is as strong now as it’s ever been. The whole project really rests on his making you care about Link (and, by extension, Lydia) and in this regard he never misses a step. Link presents himself as a fairly stoic figure, but just below the surface Gibson hints at fascinating core contradictions that drive his character. While he gives himself the excuse that he’s doing it all to protect his daughter, you never really know if he feels like he’s been freed from the shackles of his civilian life, or if he’s sacrificing a humble contentment that he’s clearly spent years building.
Lydia, a screw-up runaway in constant need of getting rescued, sadly doesn’t prove to be a character as developed as her father. That’s not to say she’s an annoyance, you definitely grow to care for her (mostly thanks to Moriarty’s performance), but it’s clear the film isn’t as interested in exploring her as they are Link, leaving her to spend most of the film dancing to the tunes of the male characters around her. Light as her character is, Moriarty deserves full praise for any investment you do feel for her as she subtly but effectively draws from a character that seems to be much deeper than the one on the script page she was handed.
Blood Father is a surprisingly enjoyable ride for fans of the action-thrillers of yesterday, but its lack of creativity and personality will undoubtedly be too big an obstacle for many viewers, especially when we’re as spoilt for things to watch as we are now. I have absolutely no reservations giving it the thumbs up, but it’s hard to imagine going out of the way to recommend it to anyone. While definitely not a must-see, if you’re on the lookout for a fun and dirty action-thriller, Blood Father won’t disappoint.