As someone who’s grown up watching Mel Gibson films when studios made movies more often and when movies had more importance in the realm of entertainment, it’s a pleasure to see him leading a film even in his golden years. It’s impossible for me to separate nostalgia from empirical evidence, but Gibson always seems to add that special something to elevate his films beyond what they could have been with a different actor. So while Blood Father is more or less a prototypical story about two lost souls taking the long way home to each other, it’s still engaging to the very end because of the strength of its cast, especially Gibson’s performance.
Link (Mel Gibson) is an ex-con, ex-alcoholic, ex-husband, and ex-father. He lives in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere, where he operates a makeshift tattoo parlor out of his home. His only friend is his sponsor, Kirby (William H. Macy), who lives across the road from him. On the wall of Link’s trailer is a missing person’s flyer of his daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), who ran away from her mother’s home when she was 14, which was 3 years ago. Unfortunately, she’s now mixed up with terrible gangsters who pressure her to kill someone. When she instead shoots her gangster boyfriend (Diego Luna), the rest of his crew go after her. With nowhere else to turn, Lydia reaches out to Link for help. And, like any decent father would, he obliges.
The meat of the story in Blood Father is the bonding of estranged family members and how they get to learn about each other again. The gunplay, unsavory individuals, and high-speed chases are just stem-winders to keep things interesting. However, the parts are balanced nicely so that audiences looking for different content are satisfied without their preferred storyline overpowering the other. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more characterization, since Link, his history, and the people he knows are all very interesting. Audiences probably wouldn’t mind if the movie extended another 30 minutes to flesh him out more so that we could understand how a man of his past could turn a new leaf and become everything his daughter needs him to be.
Overall, the structure of the film is competent and there’s nary a dull moment. That’s not to say that there’s a lot of excitement, just that the filmmakers maximized the value of every minute of screen time. Every scene pushes the plot forward or develops the characters. There’s very little fat. There are moments, however, that hint at more story than the film is willing to share with audiences. And that’s probably due to the film being an adaptation of a book. Fortunately, those moments don’t last long enough to be distracting.
The acting is non-offensive, and everyone does a good enough job to not come off cartoonish. Even Diego Luna manages to carve out a tangible relief from his one-dimensional bad guy character. If anyone comes close to being a “movie character” it’s Gibson, but only because – once again – audiences don’t get enough time with him to understand his character. So when he’s rattling off the different law violations he’s committing by defending himself against machine gun fire, it feels a little too much like a comedy bit instead of a natural reaction audiences would expect of Link. But whatever shortcomings viewers may find throughout the film are more than made-up for by the dramatic ending where characters regret not being able to give more after sacrificing so much. It’s the button that cinches the thematic thread holding the fabric of the film together.
Despite being very watchable, Blood Father is not a film that is particularly memorable. The characters in the film aren’t very sympathetic and their miseries feel largely brought upon themselves. The great achievement of the filmmakers, however, is their ability to still make viewers care. That’s because they show us that despite representing a very small subset of the human population, these characters still represent the humanity in everyone. And the ties that bind families together are the same ties that bind us all as human beings. If there’s a good reason to watch this film, then it’s to be reminded of that.