Dir: Jean-François Richet, France. 2015. 87mins
An aging pariah seeks redemption by doing what he does best: unleashing havoc while delivering smart-ass quips. That’s the setup for the mediocre action-thriller Blood Father, but it’s impossible not to see it also as the strategy behind the blurring of art and biography that informs Mel Gibson’s snarling performance. The fading, erstwhile disgraced star’s grizzled, weary urgency gives this story some gusto and resonance, but otherwise, Mesrine director Jean-François Richet delivers adequate B-movie excitement only in spurts.
It’s a film about second chances in which there’s plenty of room for improvement.
After launching in Cannes, Blood Father is set to release in the UK on August 25 and the US the following day. Gibson will be the main draw, and it will be interesting to see if audiences still embrace him after years away from the spotlight. Blood Father should entice genre fans, but dismissive reviews ought to keep many others away.
Gibson plays John Link, who is living out in the California desert after completing a nine-year prison term. Battling to stay sober, John is shocked to receive a call from his long-lost teen daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty), who has accidentally killed her criminal boyfriend (Diego Luna) and is now being chased by armed thugs and the police. John vows to keep his little girl safe as father and daughter go on the road to evade their pursuers.
At 60, Gibson retains the unpredictable gonzo energy and sly sense of humour that highlighted his time as an A-list action star. Adapted from Peter Craig’s 2005 novel, Blood Father provides Gibson with an excellent opportunity to infuse his performance with a subtle acknowledgment of his tarnished public persona, filling John with a bruised nobility as the character rues his shameful past while believing that he can still do some good in this world. Being cast as an underdog suits the Oscar-winner, who in the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon franchises proved to be immensely appealing playing underestimated loners. (Even Blood Father’s bone-dry Southern California setting subconsciously evokes Mad Max’s wide-open wastelands.)
But the temptation to read Gibson’s personal issues into John’s beautiful-loser demeanour only makes Blood Father mildly engaging, and Richet (who directed the 2005 remake of Assault On Precinct 13) fails to inject this chase picture with the requisite pulpy vitality. There are some diverting, bloody action sequences, but none of them feel particularly inventive, a fact only compounded by the modest budget.
And while Gibson can essay a hard-luck character like John with the ease of an old pro, Moriarty flails portraying his rebellious, sassy daughter. It doesn’t help, of course, that the actress is forced to wear sexy outfits while running for her life — the filmmakers seemingly wanting to accentuate her attractiveness at the expense of narrative logic — but Moriarty simply doesn’t have the poise of her more experienced costar. Consequently, there’s little drama and too much wisecracking patter between the two characters, their shared struggles with the darker side of their personalities rarely eliciting much audience sympathy.
Leaning into the movie’s B-movie bluntness, William H. Macy has some fun playing John’s tough-love sponsor, bringing a little gravitas to a character who’s mostly meant to be a wry comic foil. Meanwhile, Michael Parks portrays one of John’s adversaries, effortlessly exuding villainous bad vibes. But like most of Blood Father’s creative team, the supporting cast lends a little polish to a storyline that doesn’t warrant the extra effort. It’s a film about second chances in which there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Production companies: Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch
Producers: Chris Briggs, Peter Craig, Pascal Caucheteux, Sébastien K. Lemercier
Screenplay: Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff, based upon the novel by Peter Craig
Cinematography: Robert Gantz
Editor: Steven Rosenblum
Production design: Robb Wilson King
Music: Sven Faulconer
Main cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, Thomas Mann, William H. Macy