26 August 2016 | Ser_Stephen_Seaworth
Mad Mel's back to settle the score.
When we first meet John Link, Mel Gibson's grizzled ex-con anti-hero in his latest thriller Blood Father, he's in the midst of an impassioned soliloquy at an AA meeting. A self-proclaimed "real success story," Link is a recovering alky two years out of the slammer, whose wife left him and whose daughter is in the wind, leaving him with no one in his corner and with no one to blame but himself. It's a fitting noir-esque introduction to Link, but also—perhaps more appropriately, especially as he's talking straight at the camera when he says it—it seems to be coming from Gibson himself.
Directed by Jean-François Richet, who helmed 2008's gripping gangster diptych Mesrine, Blood Father seems at first glance to be another addition to the tried-and-true Gibson formula: a brutal guy on the wrong side of the tracks takes on those who wronged him, often in typically gruesome fashion. Certainly, John Link could be blood brothers with Porter and Driver, Gibson's violent protagonists from Payback and Get the Gringo. Living on the fringe of society while scratching out a living as a tattoo artist from his grungy desert trailer, Link is as blunt and terse as his monosyllabic name would suggest. The difference is that Blood Father feels like Gibson confronting the demons that put him and his career on the skids over the last decade. His performance feels like penance, and not in a negative way. Gibson's mainstay has always been passion—in both definitions of the word—and here he bares himself to the bone.
Link's efforts to stay on the straight and narrow are complicated by the cataclysmic arrival of his wayward daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty). Strung-out and on the run from a bunch of bad customers, Lydia's presence puts her father on an inexorable course towards violence—which, of course, he excels at dishing out. And true to form for a Mel Gibson joint, there is no shortage of it: once the blood starts flowing and the bullets start flying, it's hard to stop.
Gibson's trademark wild-man intensity is in full froth here, and it's always a welcome sight to behold, even if it's been in otherwise subpar productions or against lesser actors. For the most part, fortunately, Blood Father isn't pigeonholed in either category. While some of the dialogue sounds more than a little ponderous (Lydia spends much of the film spitting out sheaves of insight with such precision that you'd think she were a Sorkinian heroine instead of, well, someone who snorts heroin), the rest of it is balanced in taut, punchy lines that would make Hemingway proud. And unlike Get the Gringo, which featured Gibson at the top of his game making his co-stars look downright amateurish, he's bolstered by some reliable names this go-around: among them, William H. Macy as Link's good-natured AA sponsor and Michael Parks as a seedy old contact from his past. In fact, the only real weak link of the cast is Moriarty, whose erratic performance is far too self-conscious and unconvincing for us to really care about her plight. It's only through Gibson that we care (and to his credit, he does and we do).
Much of Blood Father is a foregone conclusion, all the way up to its bullet-riddled finale. And while the film rarely evinces an inspired note, it's still a good potboiler, and there's nothing wrong with a well-worn story if it's well-told. But with an actor like Gibson at the fore, it becomes something more personal. Blood Father's about a man facing old sins and the grim reckoning that comes with them. And every single one of Mad Mel's is on full display here.