So once again we have survived.

Blood Father

tn_bloodfatherBLOOD FATHER is the kind of simple story that I like. Ex-con, now-sober John Link (Mel Gibson, GET THE GRINGO) tries to help his long-missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty, THE KINGS OF SUMMER) get away from a cartel that wants her dead. To do it he has to violate his parole, go into bars, talk to bad people from his past (people he did time for who are still free, people he did time with who are still locked up), and of course kill some people. He’s reluctant – in fact he’s pissed about it – and his sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy) is freaking out. But by diving back into this darkness (while trying to keep the guns and the meth out of Lydia’s purse) maybe he can find some kind of redemption. He can see that her life is a huge mess, and he knows where she got that from.

This is a badass tough guy movie, but the action (blunt, old fashioned) is pretty slim. Doesn’t matter, it’s a character movie. Gibson, with beard and craggy face, looks cooler and scarier than ever, and at one point he has an explosion of anger that recalls both his mad, lethal history of craziness on screen and its less fun counterpart in real life. But mostly he’s that grumpy dude who’s actually a sweetheart. Crotchety about the AA shit, but genuine about staying clean. Living in a much worse trailer than Riggs, but seems to be an active member of his trailer park community, not some loner. Pissing off his ex-wife, but mostly by not letting go of his obsessive search for their runaway daughter.

Then she finds him. She’s kind of teenage-girl stupid, having fallen for a scumbag (Diego Luna) who exploited her and now defending it as real love. But she’s also educated and enlightened and can teach her dad things. He’s been down enough to know how to catch a ride in a migrant worker truck, but she can converse with them in Spanish and lecture him about his racism.

mp_bloodfatherIt’s surprisingly funny, kind of like a buddy movie. And this ex-biker washup finds himself having to be the adult for once. (Until he calls Kirby and becomes the kid again.) He has the instincts to be a responsible, law abiding citizen, but after all he’s been through he knows he can’t turn Lydia over to the police. So his version of being fatherly is to use his knowledge and connections to protect her himself. From prison and from being a tattoo artist he’s able to identify the affiliations of the people chasing them and guess what they want. And he knows what a sicario is. He’s useful.

I really like that it’s not the bickering, contentious relationship that movies usually prefer. She doesn’t understand how badly he wanted to find her, and keeps apologizing for bothering him. At first she kind of treats him like an uncle she hasn’t seen since she was a kid whose house she has to crash at unexpectedly. She thinks she’s really putting him out. Then she looks over at him driving and sees that his whole forearm is covered with her face from a childhood photo. His going to prison left her damaged, but she got in a shot at him too, from the looks of it.

Now he’s making a go at being a dirtbag father of a dirtbag daughter. There’s a funny, though totally not believable moment where a hotel clerk thinks she’s a girlfriend or a hooker and asks “where’d you find her?”

“The fucking delivery room!” he says.

When he sees her laughing and joking with a bartender who seems like a biker type guy he yanks her away. It shows both her sincere, innocent sweetness and her problem of trusting gross old dudes that she should stay away from. And I think he notices both. He admires her and fears for her at the same time.

There’s another great moment where she tells him what happened to cause her to have to go on the run. At first he misunderstands what she means, and then he’s hugely relieved when he realizes it wasn’t as immoral of a murder as he was thinking. A very good performance by Gibson.

Michael Parks shows up with one of his wide-eyed weirdo performances, so good I was worried he might actually be like that now. He’s an old ‘Nam buddy turned weapons dealer. Hanging out on his ranch kind of brings back the feeling of family Link had in the old days, but also shows that it wasn’t a very good family.

The friendship between Link and Kirby is more legitimate. Link is aware enough to have to call and tell Kirby the things he shouldn’t do that he’s about to do. Kirby exasperatedly tries to talk him out of it, and then they’re both kind of frustrated that this is the way it’s gonna be.

The world’s relationship with Gibson post-horrible-outbursts is even more complicated. Many just hate him now and always will. I’m in a more select group, a limited release, VOD type of group, that thinks maybe he’s a bad person but a great director and enjoyable actor with good taste in roles. I personally have a hard time buying the argument “Hey, who hasn’t had a few drinks and started threatening a girlfriend or ranting about Jewish conspiracies?,” but also the one about I shouldn’t be able to enjoy APOCALYPTO or GET THE GRINGO since the guy who made them seems to be a psycho.

But I also believe in forgiveness and making amends and although this sounds like it’s pretty faithful to the book it’s hard not to read it as a state of the union for Mel. Link admits that he fucked up and hurt alot of people, and now he’s gruffly, humbly, privately trying to be a cleaner, better person. He sees the bottles calling to him but knows to run to a pay phone and call his sponsor. Remember when Gibson was gonna cameo as a crazy tattoo artist in THE HANGOVER PART 2, but some of the cast didn’t want to work with him so they replaced him with Liam Neeson and then didn’t think the scene was funny and cut the whole thing out? Well, here he gets to play a crazy tattoo artist. Remember how we always worry that he hates Jews? Here he goes to see Michael Parks and there’s a bunch of Nazi memorabilia and Confederate flags around, and nobody says anything, and we think gulp. But later Link taunts him about “backing the losers: Nazis, Confederates” and about his “Nazi bullshit.”

So maybe Mel is like us. Maybe he hates Nazis. We can hope!

At any rate, he picked a good project here, maybe not from a commercial standpoint, but definitely from a legacy one. It’s a movie that both captures the joy of his old pre-infamy vehicles and takes advantage of his age and his baggage. And it’s a higher quality movie than most of the ones he’s acted in in the last 20 or so years.

I guess some would disagree with me on that. This is the headline for Eric Kohn’s review on Indiewire:

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 11.31.58 PM

And in it he writes that “Gibson inherits a less-than-desirable mantle from the likes of Steven Seagal and Chuck Norris. The punishment for his sins is a cinematic purgatory of mediocre genre fare.” He notes that that’s “not the worst fate,” and the review is not entirely negative, but it still jumped out at me, because I myself am very excited about the idea of Gibson becoming a b-movie star who does genre fare. That’s cooler than the year he did THE PATRIOT and WHAT WOMEN WANT! Plus, I’m sorry to say, neither Seagal or Norris have done a movie of this quality in many years.

This is not some throw-away star vehicle, it’s a legit movie by a good director, Jean-Francois Richet. In the U.S. he’s known for the mediocre remake of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (which makes a cameo appearance in a theater – I don’t think this is a 2005 period piece, so I’m assuming some poor revival house thought they were getting the John Carpenter original) but he also did those two very good MESRINE movies. The screenplay is by Peter Craig (THE TOWN, the last two HUNGER GAMESes) with Andrea Berloff (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON), based on Craig’s own novel.

BLOOD FATHER is playing in theaters, but not within hundreds of miles of most of us, so mostly this is a VOD release. After some turmoil I ended up renting it in HD from Youtube, which it turns out is a thing you can do.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, September 1st, 2016 at 7:32 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

18 Responses to “Blood Father”

  1. I’ve yet to see BLOOD FATHER aka RIGGS: THE RETIREMENT YEARS, but this awesome review – and all the other positive ones I’ve read* – make me hopeful that this is the one that sees Mel back in the game proper.

    It’s impossible, as Vern says, not to see this as a semi-autobiographical role and maybe that’s why Mel did it – I have no idea of course what is in Mel’s head and heart but maybe he really is repentant. Good luck to him, I say.

    * Obviously not including the Indiewire one. What a load of shit.

  2. Not being able to see this in the theater was the first time I regretted moving out of New York.

  3. “Remember when Gibson was gonna cameo as a crazy tattoo artist in THE HANGOVER PART 2, but some of the cast didn’t want to work with him…”

    I always thought that was such a weird line to draw considering they had Mike Tyson in those movies.

    Anyway from this review this sounds like a slightly more action-light version of exactly what I was hoping it would be, I shall check it out ASAP.

    Thanks Vern.

  4. I don’t know what it is Vern. I saw this in the theater, and I simply did not like it. It was a gut feeling. I thought the short but sweet action was awesome, but really didn’t care for the cinematography in the film. I thought Gibson was fantastic, but felt the direction, narrative, and technical elements let this one down. I was very excited for this one, but have had a hard time putting my finger on why I strongly disliked it while every one else is enjoying it. I do agree though with your statement about wanting to see Gibson tackle B-movie affair like this, because he’s such an excellent actor, so seeing him attached to simpler affair would make it that much better.

  5. I did manage to catch this in the theaters! There’s a AMC in Alexandria, VA which seems to have one screen reserved for strange genre fare which usually gets the DVD or On-Demand brushoff, so I caught it there on the last day, in an entirely empty theater except for a well-dressed businessman yuppie type with a briefcase who walked in 20 minutes in and left five minutes from the credits (?).

    Anyway, I was glad I did, it’s a real solid crime drama with a lot of great texture. Mel, holy cow, I’d almost forgotten he’s just such a riveting, magnetic actor to watch, especially if you take this as something of a metaphorical autobiography, an apology and a plea for redemption (and honestly, how could you not? His first scene finds him looking directly into the camera, admitting he’s hurt people and been an asshole). He’s the kind of performer that makes you remember what a movie star is as opposed to merely a talented actor.

    In this case, he’s surrounded by a great cast too, lots of interesting faces. Seemed like Macy is kinda wasted, but he’s always good to have around. I like that Parks seems kind of eccentric but harmless at first, a guy who was once probably real scary but has since become kind of an old coot. And then he sits down next to the daughter and starts ranting and glaring at her with his cold, dead eyes, and it’s fucking terrifying (how does he do that with his eyes?! They’re so warm and friendly in real life, but here it looks like he straight up has no soul). His demise is maybe my favorite part of the movie — he gets all puffed up and thinks he’s gonna get to make a big speech, but he’s caught his audience at a particularly bad time.

    I even like Erin Moriarty here. I appreciate that the daughter seems like a realistic 17 year old. Which is to say, starting to have some genuine insights in life but in so many ways still basically a child with all sorts of utterly unselfconcious dumb ideas. She doesn’t even quite get how desperately she’s fucked up here, she can’t even comprehend it.

    Richet does a nice job with the actors and the movie looks nice; gritty and dirty and full of good details. But I do sort of feel like he doesn’t ever quite get a hang of the momentum something like this should have. Probably because it’s adapted from a novel, it feels episodic and a bit more aimless than it should. The specifics of the danger aren’t articulated clearly enough — we know there are like, four guys who would like to kill them, but their capabilities aren’t exactly established, nor does there ever feel like a clear goal for our heroes other than run from place to place having meetings and occasionally running into trouble, mostly not even from the guys who are supposedly so dangerous and want them dead. I feel like this would be a more potent experience with a more simplified structure that laid out everything immediately and let it simply play out on tension alone. But oh well, this way works too. The final confrontation is at least appreciably brutal. But considering how all-time great the MERINE movies are, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment this didn’t hit me right in the classic bone.

    Still, highly enjoyable and completely competent fare. That it didn’t even get low-key mainstream release can only really be seen as Hollywood punishing Mel at this point, because this is ten times more elegant and well-made than half the movies studios churn out every month. Hope it finds an appreciable audience on DVD and Netflix and such.

  6. I have a pretty high tolerance for separating art from the artist, so I’ll check this out on DVD. I do remember reading a while ago that after Gibson’s anti-semitic tirade, he promised to mend his ties to the Jewish community, which would include various donations. Apparently, he met with one or two rabbis and then the donations never materialized. I read this years ago, so I don’t know if it stands, but I can see why people in Hollywood would still see him as persona non grata to this day. It seems like he never made amends.

    Earlier this year I watched Tess, Roman Polanski’s Tess d’Urbervilles adaptation. It’s a wonderfully shot film, but it was made two years after Polanski fled the U.S. The film has a clear feminist message and Polanski dedicates it to Sharon Tate in the beginning. The entire film feels like he’s trying to make amends, but it also seems really cynical. It’s like Polanski’s way of saying, “Sorry I raped that thirteen year old.”

  7. Not being able to see this in the theater was the first time I regretted moving out of New York.

    I moved out a few years ago and this still really, really bothers me. Especially when I try to be patient, only to have a movie not play theaters at all (which unfortunately is happening with increasing frequency)

  8. Isn’t it crazy that it’s been ten years now since the whole “what are you lookin’, sugar tits?” incident?

  9. I watched this last night, intending on just seeing the first few minutes and going to sleep, but it pulled me in right away and I ended up watching the whole thing. Gibson’s really great in it and there’s some very solid, realistic gun violence in there. I didn’t notice any CGI bullshit either.

    There’s a part where (SPOILERS) a guy gets run over by a truck and I legit thought a stunt guy got run over by a truck accidentally and they used the footage because it’s what he would’ve wanted.

    In a good way though.

    A+ on this in my opinion.

  10. Looking forward to seeing this. I enjoyed Get the Gringo a lot, and I agree that Mel’s generally an incredibly compelling figure to watch, and craggy broken Mel is as intriguing a variant as there’s been.

    It’s quite possible that Gibson is persona non grata in Hollywood (whatever that means), but the other side is that his last several films going back to Edge of Darkness have not been super successful. He’s not the big draw he once was, and he’s not alone: Pretty much the whole cohort of middle-aged guys who were major A-list film headliners 10 years ago are increasingly going DTV/VOD: Nic Cage, John Cusack, Bruce. Even DeNiro has had a couple DTV joints. With a few exceptions, Schwarzenegger and Stallone films are not making huge bank (nothing like the blockbusters of today). Stallone’s not even really getting much of anything made unless it’s a franchise event. How much better would Mel be doing right now if he were controversy-free?

  11. Awesom new interview with Mel here aka MEL VS BATMAN VD SUPERMAN:

    Mel Gibson On His Venice Festival Comeback Picture ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ – Q&A

    After a decade absence, Mel Gibson returned to directing last weekend with Hacksaw Ridge, and the World War II story has gotten arguably the strongest audience response so far as festival season ge…

  12. I loved the MESRINE movies, so I really want to see this; and that interview makes me think Mel Gibson would be the perfect guy to direct a movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s BLOOD MERIDIAN, which I’ve always thought would be unfilmable because no director would be willing to Go There. Gibson would not just Go There, he would Live There.


    To me, this is the most enjoyable movie starring Mel Gibson since Payback (the director’s cut), and one of his most fitting roles in his discography. Contrary to some report, I didn’t find anything B-grade about it. I don’t believe movies should be graded by budget, box office, or even the names involved, but the overall authenticity of its construct. Sure, it lacks the Hollywood sheen that we are so used to in a star vehicles, but I didn’t feel Mel gave any less than all he had to work with. That is why I am happy to accept this as his way of atonement.

    I remember him saying that he prefers to be behind the camera than in front of it, and thought that it would be a damn shame because even in less enjoyable films, he has always remained magnetic to watch. However, it is pretty obvious he does have a lot of pent-up rage in him because boy was he convincing when he went Mad Max on Lydia or Preacher. Some said he didn’t age well, but I think the years and the scandals somehow transformed him. He had no need to put up a “nice-guy” pretense but as a genuine, and flawed, human being. I suppose that jab at Neo-Nazi community could be read as an deliberate pandering “look I’m no racist” speech, but I beg the differ. His distaste for the Nazi dealing is not an outrage but a slight. Preacher was profiting from them and he couldn’t care or respect any less. He did not act nice towards the Mexicans in the truck, but (quotingly?) talks about them the same way many backward-thinking people would, yet embarrassingly. When his daughter corrected him, he gave no replies but acknowledged it with a scoff, yet it didn’t seem like a denial, either. It was a new idea for him that he has just come to accept. There was no hammy hi-fives or handshakes before he got off the truck. Had he proclaimed “I hate Nazis. Nobody hates Nazis more than I do, believe me.” or “You people are alright. I have so much respect for you!” That would have been a different story.

    There are so many little honest moments to show that Link is a guy with so much bad history and so much violence in his life, who is probably capable of mass murdering rampage, yet is trying and more importantly, willing to change, and even though the environment was forcing his hands, he wanted to deal with it the best he could imagine. For me it was really hard not to think that this role is a deliberate choice, but it was not to pander, but a confession – He accepted who he was (a drunk with a troubled past), he bore the consequences (lost his stature and credibility) and chose to hold no grudges, but at the same time he longed for some slack for what he had sacrificed, and can’t help but feeling betrayed when the person who claimed to love him (his once devoted fans turn critics) denied him the chance to start anew. There is a certain satisfaction seeing him shooting Preacher because it’s like Mel telling those people who denied his return “fuck you, I’m done with you. I’m gonna go do what I do best and hope for the best”. After two turns of playing pure villains – while effective and fun to watch nonetheless – it is not until this movie Mel found something that perfectly showcases his too often neglected acting talent, and the most identifiable role not just as an after math of his personal turmoil, but even his entire career.

    Well, With Hacksaw Ridge coming this year, I hope Mel is back, or at least is finding his way back, whether as an actor or a filmmaker. People may not forget what you have said and done in rage, but they may forgive you for your genuine regret with the helping of your hard-to-come-by raw talents.

  14. Oh NO, I must apologize. I was too excited while writing I forgot to put in “SPOILER ALERT” in my last post. I tried to go back to edit it but I couldn’t. Again, I am SO FREAKING SORRY GUYS!!! Seriously My bad!

  15. I added it for you.

  16. Ace MacAshbrook

    March 2nd, 2017 at 9:01 am

    I watched Logan the other night and couldn’t help but think how similar it was to this. I really enjoyed both aged, bearded Australian grouches snarking their way through each film.

  17. I always said that Gibson would have made the perfect Wolverine. He’s even the right height.

  18. Oh, LOGAN is just great and I’m sure its only a matter of hours until someone makes a gif of Patrick Stewart sticking out his tongue.

    Mel would’ve made a fantastic Wolverine, as would X-Men writer Chris Claremont’s original choice, the much missed Bob Hoskins.

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