Wednesday, August 31, 2016

In Theaters/On VOD: BLOOD FATHER (2016)

(France - 2016)

Directed by Jean-Francois Richet. Written by Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff. Cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, Miguel Sandoval, Thomas Mann, Raoul Trujillo, Dale Dickey, Richard Cabral, Daniel Moncada, Ryan Dorsey. (R, 88 mins)

Is it possible to cover a new Mel Gibson movie without rehashing the very public meltdowns over the past decade? Is it OK to like Mel Gibson onscreen again?  To praise his acting without sounding like you're defending the man himself? After 2011's badly-received THE BEAVER, Gibson didn't seem to have much of a future as anything other than a Hollywood pariah. Aside from an occasional friend like Jodie Foster standing by him, nobody wanted anything to do with him. 2012's slight but enjoyable actioner GET THE GRINGO premiered on DirecTV before Gibson managed to score two nearly identical over-the-top, self-parodying villain roles in MACHETE KILLS (2013) and THE EXPENDABLES 3 (2014), but that appeared to be the extent to which anyone was willing to cast him. This fall brings the WWII epic HACKSAW RIDGE, Gibson's first directing effort since 2006's APOCALYPTO (the trailer just says "From the Academy Award-winning director of BRAVEHEART," never mentioning Gibson by name), but before working on that, he starred in the French-financed BLOOD FATHER, which is finally getting a limited theatrical and VOD release two years after it was completed. If you have any doubts about whether the now-60-year-old Gibson's still got it, BLOOD FATHER should put any of those concerns to rest. Lean, mean, crude, and scuzzy, the hard-R BLOOD FATHER is an unabashed old-school exploitationer.. Films of this sort are usually of the pre-fab cult movie variety, imbued with a smug sense of hipster snark and winking, entitled self-awareness. Not BLOOD FATHER. Propelled by what may very well be Gibson's most ferocious performance in a long career with no shortage of them, BLOOD FATHER is the sort of throwback B-action grinder that puts the pretenders to shame.

Based on a novel by THE TOWN screenwriter Peter Craig, who co-wrote the script with Andrea Berloff (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON), and directed by Jean-Francois Richet (the surprisingly engaging ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 remake, and the two-part French gangster saga MESRINE), BLOOD FATHER has Gibson as John Link, a grizzled recovering alcoholic and ex-con who now lives a solitary life in a California desert trailer park. He does tattoos to make ends meet, but otherwise spends most of his time in AA meetings with his neighbor and sponsor Kirby (William H. Macy), staying focused on his sobriety, and wondering if he'll ever see his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) again. He hasn't been a part of her life since she was a kid, but she calls him out of the blue. She's on the run after accidentally shooting and presumably killing her shitbag boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), the nephew of a powerful, south-of-the-border Juarez cartel boss. Link is enraged to see that scheming, unreliable junkie Lydia is indeed her father's daughter, but he's sympathetic to the fact that she was born into shit and never had any role models growing up, so he wants to help. It isn't long before Jonah's crew traces her to Link's trailer, sending Link and Lydia on the run, with cartel flunkies, cops, as well as a psychotic Sicario assassin called The Cleaner (Raoul Trujillo) always close behind.

Its plot doesn't win any points for originality, but the execution makes for one of the most gleefully and entertainingly nasty movies of the year. An explosive Gibson is a junkyard dog in this, getting angrier by the scene in ways that are alternately terrifying and funny (when Jonah's crew starts shooting his trailer, Link fires back, raging about all the parole violations he's committing), eventually going completely off the chain when he seeks the help of his old biker gang leader Preacher (Michael Parks) and his old lady Cherise (Dale Dickey, the second-string Melissa Leo), only to have them attempt to sell out father and daughter for the reward money. There's also some humorous touches throughout, like broke-ass Preacher reduced to selling his neo-Nazi swag online. Gibson's performance almost functions as a de facto confessional at times. When he's recounting the sins of his past, Link confronts those transgressions head-on and it's sometimes hard to tell where Link ends and the craggy, weathered-looking Gibson begins, whether he's talking about all the people he's disappointed and alienated, or observing Preacher's white supremacist merch and quipping "Still backing the losers, I see." The role is tailor-made for the fallen star at this point in his life and career, and it's his best work in years. Sure, there's some dumb plot points, like Lydia taking forever to figure out that she's being tracked by the GPS on her phone or being required to do stupid things to advance the story, but it doesn't matter. This is the Mel Gibson Show from start to finish. You don't have to like him and it's a certainty that he'll always remain persona non grata with a good number of moviegoers and industry insiders, but there's no way you can watch BLOOD FATHER and deny that he's still a movie star who knows how to command a screen.

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