“You can’t be a prick all your life and then say ‘never mind.'”
What are we to make of Mel Gibson? It should go without saying that sometimes, less-than-exemplary individuals still create exemplary works of art. As a filmmaker, Gibson can achieve great things; as an actor, he can masterfully channel rage and regret by using little more than a glance. But everything Gibson does now comes with baggage — a baggage that, it should be acknowledged, the actor and filmmaker brought on himself. But the scandals that rocked Gibson’s image were of a deeply personal nature — hurtful, yes, but also none of our business. Yet while other filmmakers who have done (or allegedly done) far worse things seem to maintain their public persona, Gibson remains an outlier, looked upon with scorn and disdain. He still occasionally works, but his output is far removed from his heyday as a blockbuster movie star and filmmaker. Are we, as a movie going public, ready to forgive Mel Gibson, or at the very least look past his toxicity?
Time will tell. Gibson is back behind the camera later this year with the war drama Hacksaw Ridge. For now, though, he headlines the solid B-action thriller Blood Father. There’s a refreshing low-keyness to this film, helmed by Jean-François Richet. There’s no bigger picture here; no huge revelations or ready-to-Tweet moments. This is just your standard action flick that used to be prevalent in the long-ago days before cinematic universes.
Erin Moriarty is Lydia, a down-on-her-luck young woman (she’s supposed be 17, believe it or not!) who got mixed up with the wrong people, namely a criminal lunatic named Jonah (Diego Luna). Jonah has Lydia’s name tattooed across his heart, and he’s pulled her into his dangerous, murder-filled orbit. She’s able to get away from this nutjob, and turn to another nutjob for help — her estranged father Link (Gibson). An ex-con turned trailer park tattoo artist, Link is staying sober and trying to stay out of trouble. But when Lydia comes back into his life it’s only a matter of time before he’s picking up a gun and going to town on a series of scumbags attempting to bump Lydia off.
And that’s it! Okay, there’s a little bit more going on, but the long and short of it involves Gibson, Moriarty and a whole lot of bullets. And you know what — that’s fine. Gibson and Moriarty have a great, easy-going chemistry with each other, bantering back and forth believably and humorously. No one is going to confuse Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff’s script with something written by Shane Black, but it still works. What works most of all is Gibson, who seems to be channeling the last few years of his personal (and private) life into the performance. If Blood Father had benefited from a larger budget and a bigger marketing push, it could’ve easily been touted as Gibson’s “comeback vehicle” — a film that acknowledges his personal flaws while reminding audiences why they fell in love with the guy to begin with, back before we knew what a potentially unpleasant, harmful individual he was.
Gibson’s character Link (no relation to the character from The Legend of Zelda) is searching for redemption — he’s a bad man, who has done bad things, and he knows it. But through protecting his daughter he has a shot at proving he’s not a complete piece of shit, and Lydia’s arc follows a similar path. Estranged from her parents and prone to her own addictions, falling back on sarcasm to cover up her panic, Lydia needs redemption just as much as her father. Together, these two broken characters find and save each other while raking up a body count. It’s touching, in a bloody way.
As admirable as Blood Father is in its simplicity, some more bang for our buck would’ve gone a long way. Mostly, the film could benefit from a stronger villain. There’s a tattooed character who turns out to be a “sicario”, but he doesn’t make much of an impression. And Luna’s Jonah is more pathetic than threatening. A more prominent and charismatic creep for this father-daughter team to face off against would’ve bumped Blood Father up a notch.
Will Blood Father redeem Gibson? Probably not. It’s too small-scale, too simple. But it’s a step in the right direction. It’s a reminder that Gibson is a supremely talented actor who thrives with the right material. If you can separate the man from the material — and really, you should — you’ll be treated to an old-school action flick with a pair of great characters.