Running at an efficient 87 minutes and free of bloat and bullshit, Blood Father is a loving ode to hardboiled pulp noir. In the current milieu of safe action films that are carried to a first world nation's GNP by digital effects and brand recognition, it's important to recognise these meagre budgeted action flicks that run on audaciousness and charisma. Especially so when they're as impeccably crafted as this one is.
Mel Gibson is John Link, a recovering alcoholic and ex-con who ekes out a living as a tattoo artist in his cruddy trailer. His quiet existence is suddenly upended when he finds his missing daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty), a troubled teenager who's on the run from some blood thirsty drug dealers. Now a reluctant John Link is drawn back into the old familiar whirlwind of immoral lowlives and random violence but, like Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon is he just too old for this shit?
The synopsis makes it seem like just another made in Hong Kong version of Taken but while that film is glossy Dad wish fulfilment, this one is assuredly not. His Hollywood handsome mug withered by age and the unforgiving glare of the desert sun, and an old man's thick muscular build to boot, Mel Gibson is the polar opposite to Liam Neeson's kindly visage. He is bear steaks, muddy creek water, and cheap whiskey made human. A suburban dad this guy could not pass for. John Link has no "set of special skills" - he's just blunter and meaner than the rest. But less you think this a little too self serious, Gibson gamely brings a little wry comedy to the proceedings, and also imbues John Link with a healthy amount of self awareness: look for that twinkle in his eye when he waxes poetic about how he so enjoys being a dirtbag.
A giddily ludicrous creation who should only work within the confines of a cheap paperback is a cracking screen presence thanks to Gibson's considerable talent. There's a reason this guy is a movie star.
Erin Moriarty, a little known actress but if the gods are fair a rising star, is smartly as his troubled teenaged daughter. She's not a plot device or a thinly drawn sketch of sexy bad news. She's an appealingly dextrous creation - charming, droll, brave, and constantly in over her head. She has a great rapport with Gibson and their relationship is authentically textured with all the ups and downs and volatile power shiftings of a real relationship that, for a long time, has been ill-defined.
Gibson might be the star of this film, but without a convincing performance by Moriarty, it may as well be a wash. Director Jean-Francois Richet is intelligent enough to understand that Blood Father takes two to sing.
While this is technically an "action" film, it'd be more appropriate to label it as a road movie. Sure, there are spurts of well-staged bloodletting, but the key to its success is the father/daughter relationship. Many films of this ilk use a father/daughter relationship as an easy excuse to begin the dishing out of righteous crowd-pleasing violence. Maybe it was the tight budget or maybe it was just clever screenwriting, but the action is motivated by character development and not "the audience will sure find this awesome!".
So by the time we get to the final action scene, we're so thoroughly invested because we are given good reason to give a damn about the outcome: we understand and care for these two endearing losers.
If you can stomach, or perhaps are starving for, a no-nonsense shot of grit, Blood Father has got you covered.