One of the more disappointing features I caught at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival was the Mel Gibson actioner Blood Father, screening in the Midnight Movies section. You expect to see something offbeat in the wee hours of the morn, but this was as generic as these things get.
No, this is a late-career Steven Segal movie (albeit a decent one by those standards), complete with incoherent action scenes, shoddy CGI blood effects, general plot malaise, and rote storytelling formula that somehow found its way into a film festival and now a theatrical release in the Czech Republic.
(In the states, Blood Father appears to have gone straight to video-on-demand, which is where it belongs.)
And yet the film does have one thing going for it. And really going for it. That’s Mel Gibson’s central fuck-off performance as the titular father, a bad dad gone good in order to protect his estranged daughter from the renegade gangbanger’s she’s double-crossed.
Gibson is Link, a reformed alcoholic and tattoo artist living in the middle the desert. And like the most iconic Gibson performances, from Mad Max to Lethal Weapon to Payback, he just doesn’t give a damn.
Gibson is in full-fledged movie star mode throughout the film, and it’s great to see the star in his best role in over ten years (though he was also fun in Get the Gringo) after a PR nightmare sliced a good decade off his career. One just wishes it had been in a better feature than this.
Gibson’s Link has one thing and one thing only on his mind after estranged daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty) shows up on his doorstep: her protection.
But Lydia is on the run from some very bad people after a botched robbery that led to the death of her boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), a high-ranking gang banger and drug dealer whose associates soon track Lydia to her father’s trailer park.
And… that’s it. Bad dudes go after Link and Lydia, Link fights back. No extraneous plot necessary, though Gibson gets to play with some weighty morality as the reformed convict now forced to do some very bad things.
Only that’s not enough. Unlike the similar Taken, there’s no single goal driving the story forward; instead, there’s a series of disconnected incidents that fail to build on each other to generate an overall sense of tension or suspense.
Scenes of action are also mishandled, with flashy editing and effects covering up a general lack of coherency. That’s a surprise coming from director Jean-François Richet, who has made much more accomplished genre movies both in France (the Mesrine pictures) and the US (the Assault on Precinct 13 remake).
In early scenes, William H. Macy has some nice rapport with Gibson’s Link as Kirby, his neighbor and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor; in later ones, Michael Parks is fun as a biker and former friend who gets to feel Link’s wrath.
I didn’t care for Blood Father, but other critics have, to my general astonishment; the film currently holds an 87% on the Tomatometer. Hopefully it heralds a return to better things for Gibson, who proves his worth here as a genuine movie star.
Note: this review originally appeared on Expats.cz