At first glance, Blood Father threatens to serve up all the clichés of the action genre; however, there’s a refreshing twist on each. The grizzled old loner, living an abstemious life in a trailer in literally the middle of nowhere, may be an ex-con but when trouble comes a-knockin’, he’s surprisingly slow to pick up his erstwhile, criminal ways. Meanwhile, his troubled runaway daughter, sullen and ungrateful in any other movie of this ilk, is cute, very smart, and speaks her politics with eloquence (she also exhibits perfect manners with strangers). So when they wind up on the run from some unsavoury characters, the chemistry between Mel Gibson and relative newcomer Erin Moriarty makes this pair’s peril a real treat.
Gibson has been taking it slow in recent years, his one-film-a-year trajectory less memorable than his drunken outbursts and obnoxious behaviour off-camera. Perhaps this absence makes the heart grow fonder, but indisputably Gibson’s natural charisma contributes to a storming performance here which proves the actor’s talent never went away. (One scene so precisely evokes Jack Nicholson, if you close your eyes you can hear the older man on screen.)
French director Jean-François Richet dipped his toe in Hollywood waters a decade ago with the underwhelming Fishburne and Hawke cop thriller remake of Assault on Precinct 13, but his far superior work includes the violent two-part biopic of legendary French gangster, Mesrine. Richet’s European touch may account for why some of Blood Father’s moments feel subtle for an American flick – one particularly nuanced conversation about mosquitoes between said daughter and her dad’s old colleague is staggering for its brutal insights.
At times the witty repartée between Gibson and Moriarty doesn’t always sound the most likely to issue from their characters’ lips, but although the overarching plot is what you’d expect, the intricacies are often unpredictable. Mainly, Gibson is great and would whip that Neeson in a dad-off any day of the week.
Pleasingly understated and including a low-key William H. Macy in support, Blood Father is considerably more interesting, and thus enjoyable, than many a recent action thriller.