One of the first thing that Blood Father makes clear is that John Link (Mel Gibson) is over being a flashy action hero type. It’s old hat to an ex-con like him and he doesn’t want anything to do with it. However, don’t be fooled, Gibson himself seems to be having a hell of a time here. He can barely hide his smile as he blasts away the competition in this top-notch action-thriller.
Taking place in the barren outskirts of California, Blood Father sees tattooist and recovering-alcoholic John reunited with his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) only to be forced on the run by the drug cartel that wants her dead. A living legend to the local criminal underworld, the film quickly becomes a story about whether you can escape your past and change who you are.
The rest of the film’s cast is small but accomplished. William H Macey makes for a fun guest star as John’s AA sponsor – even if his character could have used a little bit more screentime. Meanwhile, Jonah (Diego Luna) and Raoul Max Trujillo‘s character prove very menacing in their roles as the film’s chief antagonists.
There’s often a sense of bitter resignation to Link in action scenes that’s played for laughs. “There. Aggravated assault. They’ll blame me for this,” he mutters as he stabs a thug through the hand with a knife. Likewise, Lydia struggles to come to terms with who she is and whether she can ever escape the criminal underworld now on her tail.
There’s a dynamic between the two which acts as a fascinating commentary on the differences between his and her generation without ever feeling condescending. There’s strength and utility in both their worldviews and there’s plenty they can learn from one another, with John often too quick to assume the worst and Lydia disheartened by the odds stacked against the pair.
Speaking of the action scenes, the film often keeps things restrained. Gibson has great presence here, channeling Link’s experience and fury into the way he fights. He doesn’t kill unless he needs to, but isn’t afraid to give it all he’s got. As a result, there’s a sense of tension to every encounter and when things turn violent, the bodies drop fast. It never feels like the heroes (or villains) of Blood Father are going for spectacle, just survival.
The film is directed by French director Jean-François Richet and his attempts to emulate the aesthetic of the classic American action blockbuster are fascinating to behold. Link rides a motorbike down dirt roads as filthy as the divebars he shakes down for information on their pursuers. The film is draped in the stylings of Americana but the the script isn’t afraid to turn the screws. One of the first sequences in the films is an extended-gag at the expense of American’s lack of gun laws while a later scene sees Lydia call Link out for his outdated views on race and immigration. Blood Father clearly adores the imagery of a classic America but isn’t going to let the nation’s problems skate by without criticism.
Blood Father is a tight, punchy action flick with a strong set of core performances and memorable – if dusty – imagery. Jean-François Richet has crafted a fine film here that has what it takes to hang with the best of them.
Review score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Blood Father is screening at this year’s Sydney Film Festival. To find out more information about the film and screening times, click here.