In this summer of blockbuster ipecac, a little gritty revenge thriller goes a long way. We’ve seen one bankrolled mega-flick after another failing to deliver even the most basic of popcorn inertia. By contrast, the lightweight, low-budget action-thriller Blood Father makes it look easy. Well, easyish. Dispensing with the narrative gristle and computer-animated window-dressings, Paris native Jean-François Richet applies the paddles to this most derelict of seasons and squeezes, bringing back to life a blockbuster run that, for all intents and purposes, has proved DOA throughout. All he needed, it turns out, was Mel Gibson and a dash of piss and vinegar.
Even whilst trapped within a rather rout action thriller exoskeleton, madman Mel proves reason enough to watch the otherwise conventional Blood Father. As a recovering alcoholic with a rap sheet as long, old and gnarly as the Old Testament, Gibson’s Link is thrust into a standoff with the Mexican cartel when his milk cartoon frequenting daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), a runaway since the age of 14, reappears. She’s f*cked (and f*cked up) a major (and majorly juvenile) drug kingpin and needs to get off the grid STAT. Link and his dependable sponsor (William H. Macy) rally support from the dingy collection of local low-lives. Shootouts ensue. Squibs make a long-awaited comeback.
For its folly – of which the chief offender is that the whole thing is a bit “been there, done that” – Gibson’s schtick (overprotective father doing all he can to protect/avenge his family) is revitalized with R-rated verve here. He’s almost too comfortable with the gig – it’s a fit as snug as OJ into the iconic glove – but it’s good to see the man retrofit his appeal into a new-age film adamant on old school thrills. Mel’s legacy alone gives pissy posture to Richet’s throwback filmmaking, lending it the throbbing pulse of those stricken with severe hypertension and a roaring mascot to back it up.
Manic Mel unleashes his madness diligently. “Lost Soul” tattooed on his arm, a placard hugged by the grim reaper himself. His timbre is growl rugged. Gruff as a hacksaw. Raw. Feral. Intimidating. His beard, that of the orange jumpsuit bespoke Mel, fresh to an incarceration. Drunken, belligerent but seeking forgiveness. There’s poignant parallels between Mel and Link – the drunkard seeking absolution in a world that’s turned its back – that makes Blood Father seem, at least marginally, like a somber autobiography. An epitaph on a career of financial hits and personal shortcomings that have left the man hollow and searching desperately for meaning. It goes without saying that the material is custom tailored for Gibson and his being there makes it all the more delicious.
Richets finds room to assemble a few worthwhile critiques of Trump-era Americana into the mix, using the oh-so-talented Michael Parks as a harbinger of doom, gloom and racial dementia. To paraphrase his demented Nazi old timer, America cannibalizes itself. Not a novel idea for a French man to take down the land of red, white and blue, but there’s something that rings true when Parks spews, “This country buys out subversives. Turns rebels into fashion trends.” The runway is drowned in faux-edge. Even bikers have iPhones. Mel, the ultimate Hollywood rebel, however remains on the fringes of the mainstream. Still not issued a golden ticket to return, he lingers and his shadow stands long within Blood Father.
Parks, who terrified turning Justin Long into a walrus, remains likewise an outsider; the villain the film deserves, but not the one it gets, as he’s left playing third fiddle to a couple of tattooed cartel cardboard standees.
Richet’s underlying critique is set with a subversively humorous opening scene. Box after box after box of bullets roll down a superstore conveyor belt. The 16-year old Lydia requests a pack of cigarettes. The cashier says she needs ID to buy smokes, packaging up the ammunition nonchalantly. Not catching the slightest whiff of irony. It’s about as understated as Bryan Mills but at least Richet is trying to dig deeper. As such, Blood Father rebels against PC culture and CG filmmaking, weaving into a practical effects-driven protest song in the spirit of Denis Hopper’s seminal Easy Rider. It’s a spirited tour through grifter Americana, biker bars, neo Nazi outposts, trailer parks with their privately armed militias. One that matches the cynicism of Mad Max with the paralyzing intensity of Martin Riggs. A needed shot of adrenaline to this brain dead summer achieved through the balance of levity and intensity. It’s far from perfect but at least it’s entertaining and that’s something that not a lot of this summer’s fare can claim.
CONCLUSION: ‘Blood Father’ delivers the throwback action goods and guttural Mel Gibson performance that anyone considering watching it might hope for. That its plot is a collage of prior Gibson movies and the ‘Taken’ franchise limits it from being remarkable in any way but its breed of blood-soaked, primal scream filmmaking has been sorely missed this summer and makes for a highly entertaining, if somewhat forgettable, watch.