Blood Father offers solid genre film entertainment, but works better as a character piece than as a pulpy thrill ride.
Blood Father tells the story of John Link (Mel Gibson), an ex-con who’s managed to stay sober for the past two years – and kept out of prison for one year. John’s since been living a quiet life in New Mexico, making his way as a a tattoo artist who works out of his kitchen (in his trailer home) and keeping in touch with his fellow AA members, including John’s sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy). However, trouble then comes knocking in the form of Lydia (Erin Moriarty): John’s teenaged daughter, who has been a “missing person” since she ran away from home (and John’s ex) a few years earlier.
Lydia, it turns out, is on the run – having caused a “business visit” conducted by her boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna) to go south. John, armed with little more than his years of experience and his connections formed from having lived most of his life outside of the law, must therefore go on the run with his daughter – if either of them is to make it out of their predicament alive.
Based on the novel of the same name (published in 2006) by Peter Craig, Blood Father is a bare-bones genre movie that brings to mind another Mel Gibson star-vehicle: the 2012 neo-western Get the Gringo. Whereas the latter amounted to more than the sum of its familiar parts in no small part thanks to Gibson’s involvement as a co-writer, the actor’s latest hard-edged film offering is more straight-forward and conventional. Blood Father offers solid genre film entertainment, but works better as a character piece than as a pulpy thrill ride.
Blood Father has fairly been compared to Taken – as both are films about grizzled fathers (in need of redemption) who use their deadly “skills” to protect their estranged daughters. However, the Gibson-starring variation on that premise is closer to a buddy road trip adventure blended with a neo-western, by comparison. Blood Father director Jean-François Richet (the 2005 Assault on Precinct 13 remake) and his collaborators still fall short of breathing fresh life into the movie’s familiar components. Most of the plot twists, narrative turns, and “surprises” here are telegraphed and fall short of bucking expectations for this type of genre fare, post-Taken and its imitators (for example, 3 Days to Kill). Where Blood Father succeeds is at running through its familiar plot beats with precision and a no-muss/no fuss approach, allowing the film to flow at a nice steady pace – and wrap up with a lean running time of under 90 minutes.
Mel Gibson further helps keep Blood Father engaging through his performance – with the Oscar-winner’s turn as a curmudgeonly former outlaw (who just wants to stay out of trouble) coming off as all the more believable and authentic thanks to his gruff manner and appearance in the film. Gibson also forms a solid dynamic with his onscreen daughter, played by Erin Moriarty (Jessica Jones); making their interactions more compelling to watch, as a result. Indeed, the father/daughter storyline in Blood Father is the most interesting plot thread here and serves as the glue that holds the rest of the movie together.
The adapted Blood Father script written by Craig (who also penned The Town) and Andrea Berloff (Straight Outta Compton) serves up much in the way of not only hard-boiled dialogue, but also the expected ensemble of no-account types who populate this film’s neo-western setting; among them, the over-confident Jonah (Diego Luna) and his silent-but-deadly minions, as well as John’s unscrupulous old acquaintance “Preacher” (Michael Parks) and his wife Cheris (Dale Dickey). Ultimately, most of these characters are more memorable because of the capable actors bringing them to life, rather than how they are written. The same goes for the appearances made by such people as William H. Macy and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl‘s Thomas Mann.
Visually, Blood Father is brought to life in the same B-movie style used in not only Taken, but other similar Liam Neeson-headlined vehicles. That approach (lots of handheld camera-work, tight-nit angles, frequent cutting) serves to create the modern wild west atmosphere of the movie’s setting (on-location in New Mexico); though when it comes to action scenes, close-quarter fights and/or shoot-outs, Blood Father is serviceable – no more, but no less. That may be in part due to the film’s cinematographer, Robert Gantz, having gained more experience in TV than film over the past decade (on television shows such as Hart of Dixie, White Collar and Limitless) since he and Richet made Assault on Precinct 13.
For these reasons, Blood Father makes for a standard-quality genre movie – while at the same time, making for a worthy showcase (and reminder) of Mel Gibson’s acting prowess. Blood Father is not so impressive enough in terms of its technical craftsmanship as to necessarily demand being seen in a theater, as opposed to being watched at home (once it’s available). All the same, it can fairly be recommended to anyone who’s in the mood to take a walk on the wild side with old “Mad Mel”.
Blood Father is now playing in U.S. theaters in limited release. It is 88 minutes long and is Rated R for strong violence, language throughout and brief drug use.
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