(SPOILERS) There are points during Blood Father where it feels like Mel is publically and directly addressing his troubled personal life. Through ultra-violence. I’m not really sure if that’s a good idea or not, but the movie itself is finely-crafted slice of B-hokum, a picture that knows its particular sandpit and how to play most effectively in it.
Jean François-Richet has put a toe in English language movies before, in the form of the okay-but-unnecessary Assault on Precinct 13 remake. Since then, he made the pretty good two part Mesrine. As expansive as that was, Blood Father is contrastingly tight and trim, cutting to the chase and not stopping until it has said what it has to say.
John Link’s a character made for the current persona of Mel, awash with regret, addictions (he’s attending AA), a past full of dark characters and, naturally, simmering irrepressible rage (Mel exploding righteously is one of the main reasons you check out a Gibson film, something in the ballpark of “I’ll see you on the inside, you chickenshit motherfuckers!”). He also like his tats (in itself, this seems like a subconscious reference to the cameo Gibson lost in favour of the less controversial Nick Cassavettes in The Hangover Part II. Or it might just be a call back to Father’s Day).
As a result, Link’s given to near-the-mark advice and recriminations, telling his daughter, who blames herself for the manner in which psycho Jonah (Diego Luna) has invested in her, and from whose destructive influence she has fled, “Kid, you’ve got the mind-set of a battered housewife”. Gibson’s religious crutches come in for stick too. Hitching a ride with some illegal Mexicans, Lydia defends their presence against Link suggesting they’re stealing jobs: “I bet no white person has ever picked a piece of fruit off a tree ever”. “What about Eve?” responds Dad. “Eve was not white” she retorts, before asking if he thinks the Garden of Eden was in “fucking Norway” And lo and behold: Link/Mel shows off a sense of humour at such bating. Later, hooking up with old biker cohorts (Michael Parks and Dale Dickey) who are making a living from selling fascist memorabilia (“All the losers make the money. Nazis and confederates”), Link rebukes their “Nazi bullshit!” It comes across as an unsubtle attempt to address his own family history.
But mainly, there’s Mel going apeshit and getting desperate, which he does repeatedly, be it his response to a crime gang turning up at his trailer, fleeing the bad guys hot on their trail or boldly telling Jonah how it is (“Yeah, I know all about you, and that’s why you’re going to stay on the phone”). The final confrontation is the only point where Blood Father enters slightly plodding territory, and while I’ve no problem with heroes pegging it in movies, it doesn’t quite feel earned in this case. I suspect part of that is down to central pulse of the picture, and its main miss.
Being Link’s unreconstituted, resumed relationship with his daughter. This isn’t down to Mel, rather Erin Moriarty’s merely sufficient performance as Lydia. Blood Father needed someone who could match Gibson tirade for tirade, and Moriarty simply isn’t up to the task. She’s there, but she doesn’t make you care (likewise, her scenes with Luna: he does all the heavy lifting, not that he’s backwards in revelling in bug-eyed sociopath mode).
William H Macy has little more than a cameo as Link’s best AA bud with a line in very-Mel ribaldry (“You know the difference between fitting and proper? ... I could shove my thumb up your arse right now and it would probably fit… but it wouldn’t be proper”) and hanging tough ("You boys picked the wrong rednecks"). Occasionally, Link too spits out the barbed, pithy comeback; a motel clerk asks of Lydia, “Hey man, where’d you find her?” “In the fucking delivery room” Link growls back, refraining from giving him a beating to boot. When they steal a station wagon and it becomes a known property, he comments “Our first family car, and now we’ve got to dump it”.
There’s an attempt at commentary on a clueless current generation, for whom the rebels of yesteryear have been turned into fashion items, but really, ‘twas ever thus. Blood Father’s mostly sensible enough to steer clear of such pitfalls, though, understanding its best footing is to show up, get the job done, and get out. If not for the slightly lacking father-daughter relationship, it would be up there with the first tier of such pictures; it’s certainly a damn sight more vital than the superficially-similar father-rescues-daughter-in-trouble Taken series.