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Blood Father

BLOOD FATHER

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jean-François Richet

Cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, Miguel Sandoval, Dale Dickey

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence, language throughout and brief drug use)

Running Time: 1:28

Release Date: 8/12/16 (limited)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 11, 2016

As an actor, Mel Gibson is an expert at digging and filling up a well of rage that, at any moment, seems ready to overflow and drown anyone in the vicinity. That's the thrust of his performance in Blood Father, and it's also, basically, the film's plot. He plays a felon on parole who becomes caught up in a battle of which he wants no part. When he becomes a part of it, though, you'd better believe this character is going to be the one to finish the fight.

We obviously believe that part of the character, but Gibson's performance is also bolstered by a more contemplative side to this man. He plays John Link, who served his time for crimes that he's more than willing to admit he committed. He wants to put that life behind him, and the decision has made him a pariah to the only people he had ever known. Now, Link lives in a trailer park, works as a tattoo artist, regularly attends local AA meetings, and admits that he's essentially waiting to die alone and unloved in the desert. He has made peace with that reality, he tells his sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy), but that doesn't mean he has to like it.

That's where Link begins the film. The story, adapted from Peter Craig's novel by the author and Andrea Berloff, begins with a young woman who could be Link's salvation, his destruction, or maybe both.

She's Lydia (Erin Moriarty), and she has become involved with a gang that's part of a Mexican drug cartel. The gang's leader Jonah (Diego Luna) appears to be desperately in love with Lydia, whose name is tattooed on his chest over his heart. The gang is raiding a well-to-do family in a suburban house when Jonah puts a gun in Lydia's hand and points that hand toward a bound woman. In the cocaine-fueled commotion, Lydia ends up shooting Jonah and escapes the other gang members.

She is Link's daughter, who has been missing for years. He never really knew her, since he spent almost a decade in prison, but he still has photos of her, along with a bulletin asking for any information on her disappearance, on a board in his trailer home/tattoo parlor. Lydia calls him to ask for some cash, and Link picks her up and brings her back to his home. His plan is to hide her from the cops, who would arrest her, and the men looking for her, who would kill her. He also thinks he can help get her sober, too. As he goes through his daughter's purse, we can see Link adding up all the parole violations within it.

The plan doesn't last for long. The gang shows up at the trailer park, and as he defends himself and his daughter, Link starts listing all the crimes he's likely committing in the process.

What follows is fairly predictable, with Link and Lydia running from the gang, a cartel assassin (It turns out Jonah was/is the nephew of a major drug boss), and the police. There are a handful of action sequences here, such as the gang's raid on Link's trailer (during which the house tumbles over in a disorienting shot from inside) and a chase/gunfight on motorcycles on a highway, and director Jean-François Richet doesn't let them overstay their welcome. They're tightly paced and well-choreographed, especially a climactic shootout that pits two men, each positioned at different levels, against each other.

Instead, the focus is on Link, as he tries to compensate for lost years with his daughter, realizes how far removed he is from his past, and gradually builds toward returning to his old ways. What he finds is that there is no one who can help him. Nobody in his new life understands what it means to be outside the law (When Kirby tells him to call the police, Link says he can't take his sponsor's usually good advice this time). Link's ex-wife hangs up on him before he can even tell her that their daughter has returned.

He meets up with Preacher (Michael Parks), the old boss for whom he stayed silent and served time in prison, looking for some money. Preacher has moved on to selling Nazi and Confederate paraphernalia. Whatever power he once had is gone. There may have been honor between these two criminals at one point, but Preacher takes Link reform as a sign of weakness. There's no real escaping the ways of crime and violence, Preacher tells Lydia. It's a stain that everyone, especially those who are of the bad sort, can see. Now, she also has it.

There's a sense of isolation from any help (They can't even trust strangers, because their names and faces are all over the news), and it informs a lot about Link's character, as he's tempted by bottles behind a bar and the potential of taking revenge on the people who took—or could take—away his life. The father-daughter relationship becomes a secondary piece of this conflict. In her actions, Lydia is a possible threat to Link's transformation, but as a person, she represents the best of Link. She's smarter and more compassionate than him (Their encounter with some migrant workers helps to solidify that), but is it even possible for any of that to rub off on him at this point in his life and under these circumstances?

Likely, the answer is obvious at this point. Blood Father is willing to show this character wrestle with that question, and that elevates this material above its actioner trappings.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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