In Jean-Francois Richet’s Blood Father, there’s not much subtlety and even less pause for introspection, but it’s not a big dumb ‘actioner’ either. It somehow manages to settle in between both worlds and fashion a highly enjoyable and no-nonsense trip through the seedy underbelly of a world inhabited mainly by ex-convicts, Mexican cartel hitmen, black marketeer neo-Nazis and California desert rats. Oh, and it stars Mel Gibson.
As the titular ‘blood father,’ Link (Gibson) just wants two things: to live a quiet life in his desert RV way station far removed from his stints in jail and to stay clean. In fact, the first glimpse we get of him is delivering a quasi hate-filled rant in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting that reveals him to be an angry and conflicted individual, partly acknowledging his past mistakes but firmly establishing him as someone who takes no grief from anyone or anything.
Of course, that idyll is shattered when his estranged 19-year-old daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarity) phones him out of the blue and asks for his help. Involved with some pretty nasty people, Link quickly takes her in and finds both of their lives threatened with the trail of violence left behind by Lydia.
As Link, Gibson gives a ferociously grizzled performance, extrapolating all the supercharged tendencies of the ‘lone wolf gunman with a past who knows how to exact perfect revenge’ exemplified by every action film character from Charles Bronson to The Transporter. The relationship that develops — at first caustic and then slightly tender — between daughter and father plays out in sync with a film that sees them crisscross the California desert in hiding. There’s even the smitten motel clerk who falls for the pretty Lydia and helps them escape one pivotal mid film confrontation. Blood Father plays by the rules and the narrative dramatics feel rote, yet it works.
Even more mold-breaking are the supporting roles played by William H. Macy and the always aberrant Michael Parks. As Link’s addiction mentor, Macy and Gibson share some of the more honest and wryly humorous moments in the first half. As the old friend Link seeks for help, Parks imbues his semi-retired domestic terrorist/Nazi fundraising farmer as someone truly frightening. Not only does he speak about the virtues and twisted rationale of his worldview in direct terms, but his entrenched ranch feels like the exact off-the-grid hideaway any self-respecting homegrown enemy would find safe.
As Blood Father winds its way to a stark, violent conclusion, I found myself thinking this is the perfect summer vehicle. Devoid of flying superheroes or catastrophic volcano eruptions that swallow up the West Coast, seeing Mel Gibson pinned down behind a car… or Mel Gibson and his daughter struggling to get out of an overturned RV…. or the especially shocking conclusion to a motorcycle chase…. it’s simple, straightforward action with just the right amount of heart tossed in for good measure. I know it won’t be the summer norm, but its great for a small respite and maybe even a tiny morsel of Mel Gibson resurgence.
Blood Father opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, August 12 at Studio Movie Grill Spring Valley.