‘Blood Father’ gives us reason to still love Mel Gibson

blood father

You know the story already. Daughter gets involved with the wrong group of people. Father at first hesitates to intervene because of his dark past life, but ends up getting pulled back in for one last showdown. If that means the death of him, then so be it. There’s a bit of a curveball to that story now, though. Mel Gibson, an actor attached to every “well, actually” piece inhabiting the internet, is now the one metering out this kind of boilerplate justice reserved for some VOD/Straight-To-DVD action hero. It’s because of stars like him that Blood Father is as good as it is. A disgusting and unnerving redneck throwdown masquerading as Gibson’s comeback. While it may not carry the most logical of stories and most assured of direction, Gibson enlivens this bit of nastiness with his brand of crazed empathy.

Lydia (Erin Moriarty) hasn’t been hanging around with the right people lately. On top of the drug habit she’s developed, her new boyfriend is the nephew of a drug lord. Just when he, Jonah (Diego Luna), decides to entrust her with killing a mark, she instead shoots him and runs away. That’s when she calls her Dad, John Link (Mel Gibson). John’s been kicking around in his trailer doing tattoo art on the side while laying low so his parole officer won’t throw him back in the clinker. That is until Lydia enters back into his life. Now, he and Lydia are faced up against thugs of all kinds.

What’s increasingly odd about Blood Father is that it’s seemingly engineered for anyone else but Gibson. The plot goes through the motions like the dispensable thrill-a-minute action films you see on Netflix today, but it’s anchored by so much bravado that you can’t help but be invested in a movie that technically gives no other reason to exist but for Mel to flex. The writers—one of Straight Outta Compton fame and one of The Town fame—kind of jettison out all fat that may be created by this story if it slows down. Even the most empathetic of moments happen amidst a hail of bullets. The editing reflects that view, too. Scenes barely transition because someone behind the scenes realized people would probably stop caring if they carried this shit on for too long.

Again, Gibson’s loudmouth charm, whether too problematic to enjoy or not, is one of of the most welcome things I’ve witnessed in movies this year. The same man who dislocated, then popped his shoulder back into place as a dare is still as filled with emotion as he was 30 years ago. The minute his eyes light up at the sight of his daughter, we’re reminded of one thing: this guy was a movie star at one point, and he hasn’t lost what made him that star. If anything, a certain showdown towards the end showcases some of the dirtiest and low-down mean facets of the man re-purposed to kill some baddie.

There’s some underlying thread to Blood Father about the loss of innocence and how that can be so crushing in this world, but the film starts out with a girl buying pink bubble gum and tons of ammunition, so how innocent are we supposed to believe this Lydia is? Michael Parks (Tusk, Red State) even shows up to play a person from John’s past, a Nazi memorabilia seller by the name of Preacher. Unsurprisingly, John used to be a pretty deplorable guy and has no interest in returning to his past life.

Director Jean-François Richet is no slouch in the action department, either. Even his Assault on Precinct 13 remake shines as a nasty bit of entertainment, even with how unnecessary its existence was. Things are always coherent in his action scenes because they take place in one designated space, unlike every single blockbuster we see crawl its way into theaters today. Everything is coherent because this is a barebones thriller ground down to the essentials.

What’s even more odd is that Blood Father is being quietly released into a handful of theaters in myriad territories this weekend and then hitting VOD on August 26. This is the exact kind of film you see after having a couple of beers with your friends—an 88-minute blast it is, warts and all. Welcome back, Mel.