It’s too bad that the new Mel Gibson actioner Blood Father is getting buried by Lionsgate in terms of a full-on theatrical release, as it totally represents a return to ass-kicking form for star Mel Gibson, and would make for a tasty double bill with the late summer sleeper hit Hell or High Water. This is some seriously economical storytelling, with a no-fat and all-momentum screenplay from the writing team of Peter Craig (The Town, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) and Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center, Straight Outta Compton), who based their lean and mean genre entry on Craig’s novel of the same name. Directed with gritty efficiency by French action maestro Jean-Francois Richet (the masterful two-part crime epic Mesrine, the underrated remake of Assault on Precinct 13), the story tracks an ex-con (Gibson) and his wayward, druggie daughter (sexy Erin Moriarty), who end up on the run from a ruthless set of drug dealers and other assorted baddies after she mistakenly shoots one of the higher ups.
Gibson finally got a meaty role to have some fun with, while his recent off-screen persona adds an interesting angle to the already edgy narrative; this is truly perfect casting when all things are considered. His paternal chemistry with Moriarty is palpable, so when the bullets start to fly, the story is all the more involving. And while the plotting may feel comfortably familiar, it’s the confidence in the material and the conviction of the performances that sell the entire picture. Sometimes being hard-boiled and exacting with a simple yet effective premise is all that’s required, as this sun-baked gem repeatedly delivers the goods.The nifty supporting cast includes a sneering Diego Luna, an especially nasty Michael Parks, prolific Dale Dickey, the super-dangerous looking Richard Cabral, and a clearly-having-fun William H. Macy as Gibson’s gun-toting buddy and AA-sponsor. Craig and Berloff’s stripped down writing allows for character beats to emerge out of body language and visual motifs, while the script is frequently funny in ways unexpected, with various call-outs (intentional or not…) to some of Gibson’s most iconic films.
And that’s part of the fun of Blood Father; it’s the type of movie that comments on genre while still respecting it, going through the process with violent ferocity and a straight-ahead sense of retribution. Gibson grabbed this role by the balls and never looked back, allowing his facial hair to convey backstory, while looking seriously buff without feeling overdone. And he still wields a pistol like few other action stars, with the various action scenes, most notably a hair-raising bike chase and super-deadly final shoot-out, benefiting from Richet and cinematographer Robert Gantz’s clear sense of visual form and spatial awareness. After premiering to very strong reviews at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, it’s a bummer to see this sort of hard-nosed genre entry not attracting as big of an audience as it should. There are multiple factors at play with this film in terms of its lack of audience traction, make no mistake, but in the end, a good movie is a good movie, and this is that. Blood Father is currently in very limited theatrical release, and available on various streaming platforms such as cable providers, ITunes, and YouTube.
Review by Nick Clement