Reports from international critics covering film festivals have it that award-winning actor and director, Mel Gibson, is finally on the up and up. Gibson has essentially been blacklisted for nearly a decade decade following incidents of drunken racism and anti-Semitism. But with the Oscar buzz around Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Gibson and out in South Africa towards the end of the year, Gibson appears to be on his way back to respected stardom again, having apologised and undergone rehab.
But first, we have to deal with his return to the big screen as an actor in the action/thriller/drama(?), Blood Father. The question mark following the three genre descriptors are there because the film simply doesn’t know what it wants to be, which is its downfall.
17-year old Lydia (Erin Moriarty) gets involved in the ‘wrong’ crowd after running away from home — ‘wrong’ in this instance being one of the most fearsome Mexican drug cartels in the U.S. The film opens with her buying boxes of bullets for gang leader, Jonah (Diego Luna), a murderous psychopath who also happens to be her boyfriend. The couple, as well as some other gang members, go to a house where Jonah orders Lydia to kill a woman who has cheated him in some way, you know, so she can ‘prove’ her loyalty and love for him. At the last minute Lydia turns the gun on Jonah, wounds him and makes a run for it.
With her name now on the top of the gang’s kill list, Lydia gives her ex-con, recovering drug addict father, John (Mel Gibson) a call. He’s living in a trailer among a bizarre group of people who’ve made their home in the middle of nowhere, while they attend recovery meetings led by Kirby (William H. Macy), who’s also John’s sponsor. John’s made good progress and is sticking to his parole conditions. No more drugs, no more guns etc. But, of course, when trigger-happy crazies come after his daughter, John needs to dredge up his badass half to protect his progeny, and atone for his past sins.
- What follows is an action-chase game as Jonah and the gang tries to find Lydia and exact revenge. Along the way, the viewer discovers exactly what it is Lydia is involved in, while John’s background is revealed, though it’s never made explicitly clear exactly what crime he committed, just that he took the fall for some biker-buddy. There is of course nothing like bullets flying to bring a father and daughter together and as the plot progresses, John and Lydia begin to understand each other. What’s problematic is that the ‘I-will-kick-your-mother-fucking-ass’ part of the story, and the ‘let’s bond’ part don’t glue well together. It’s not impossible to make a film that is a thoughtful thriller, one that is both action and drama (see Mad Max: Fury Road and The Accountant), but Blood Father is far off the mark. Screenwriter Peter Craig just made a mess of adapting his own novel for the film. Or maybe the book was just awful to begin with.
Mel Gibson shows off some of his well-honed acting skills as the haggard, grey-haired, pissed-off and protective dad, and the scene where he steals a motorcycle for a high-speed chase harks back to the original Mad Max, and it is immensely satisfying. He’s full pseudo-wisdoms for Lydia: “You either want to wake up in the morning or you don’t. And if you can’t find a way to live with yourself well then, why run? Why come to me? Why do any of this?” “Sure”, you want to say. Agreed. I’ll buy.
Finding any redeeming part of newcomer Erin Moriarty’s performance, however, is like drawing blood from a stone. Lydia is like a mosquito you just can’t smack. She keeps screwing up and not in a way that draws any sympathy from the viewer. She acts more like a bratty child than someone who is really struggling with drug addiction or who has any remorse for her crimes. One moment she wants to give up and die; then she wants to fight. As John keeps catching her out in lie after lie (just come clean in one go already!), I wanted to throttle her and I let my mind wander to an imagined scene in which director Jean-François Richet might throw a twist in the plot and let a bullet find Lydia’s head.
Blood Father was a hopeless miss at the U.S. box office. With a tiny distribution (clearly cinema managers didn’t have any high hopes), it’s made a measly $1.8 million to date. Two weeks after its release it went straight to iTunes. Distributors in South Africa though, clearly believe Gibson will hold enough appeal for the film to make some money locally.
This film showcases those parts of the Mel Gibson that captivated in films like Braveheart and Apocalypse Now, and the anticipation is running high ahead of his directorial return in Hacksaw Ridge. But Blood Father is little more than twaddle that can be used as a re-introductory study on what Gibson used to be, and can be again.
Director: Jean-François Richet
Cast: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, William H. Macy
Rating: 2 out of 5
SA release date: 19 November 2016