Thursday, 15 September 2016

Blood Father (2016) - Movie Review

Mel Gibson.

I isolate that name because I am assuming that it is still the stand-alone joke that he has been for the last several years. I mean, after growing up amidst stories surrounding The Passion Of The Christ, Gibson’s anti-Semitism and… well, him just being pretty cuckoo in general, it’s difficult to view him as anything other than a source of jokes. Kind of like Michael Jackson, provided that you’re part of my generation that grew up with the scandals first and the art second. Anyway, it seems that he has a new film out, produced by French company Why Not Productions… okay, that has to be intentional, seeing as how that just about sums up the mindset of anyone who would hire Mel Gibson for their film nowadays. With The Expendables 3 still leaving a fairly disappointing recollection and Machete Kills being one of those films that all of two people actually liked (with me being one of them), I’m a tad worried about this one. As always, I welcome the opportunity to be proven wrong.

The plot: Lydia (Erin Moriarty), after years of running and hiding, contacts her long-lost father John (Mel Gibson), an ex-con. The reason for her visit is that she has gotten herself mixed up with the wrong crowd, after an unfortunate incident involving her boyfriend Jonah (Diego Luna), and the thugs want her dead. John has a very, very long day ahead of him.

It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun just from the characters in a film, and it all starts with Gibson. With a sarcasm streak a mile long and this almost primal urgency in combat, John Link is the kind of person that is a wet dream for those with a taste for more morally dubious protagonists and Gibson certainly delivers. Whether he’s defending his lifestyle with gunfire, staring down the men that were once loyal to him or discussing surrender with his daughter in easily one of the most unexpectedly touching and poignant conversations I’ve seen on screen all bleeding year, this just makes me think that the guy needs more work. Hey, we’ve been willing to show mercy to people who have done a lot worse in the film industry; methinks this guy deserves better stock nowadays than The Expendables 3.

Moriarty as his daughter spends a little too much of the film in a substance-induced haze, but she definitely nails the chemistry with Gibson to make their familial bond feel real. Luna must have studied mannerisms of actual possessive boyfriends, because he is a little too good with his interactions with Moriarty, especially during the opening scene. Michael Parks as John’s former boss Preacher outright steals the show, which should be no surprise for those who’ve seen his more recent work with Kevin Smith. He is just mesmerising in how grizzled and fiery he gets in almost every frame he’s in. Hell, just to show how good everyone here is as a whole, even William H. Macy’s minor role as John’s AA sponsor is memorable and kind of badass in its own way.

The writing team-up for this one is… interesting. One half is Peter Craig, whom I’m sure most of you are familiar with on some level as he co-wrote both parts of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay; the other half being Andrea Berloff, who helped scribe one of last year’s bigger successes with Straight Outta Compton. Given this film’s fascination with father-child relationships and gang mentality, this team-up almost makes too much sense. Probably helps that both of those aspects of the script are pretty well-done in their own rights. With John and Lydia’s relationship, it ends up a tad mired in the typical action-thriller trappings of constant running punctuated by shootouts, but when they do get time to converse, it sells it better than a lot of other films of late including most if not all of Liam Neeson’s recent fare.

As for the approach to crime, this uses a similar perspective to last year’s Run All Night in how it portrays the old ways vs. the new ways of the gangster, only here it’s a lot more fleshed-out. It’s also a lot more prominent, which can occasionally lead to very obvious moments like the opening involving the purchase of bullets and cigarettes and a rather painful moment involving one of John’s tattoos near the end. Nevertheless, the way this film juxtaposes the redneck/biker side and thug/rap-influenced sides of the equation makes for some nice thematic elements. This all comes to a head thanks to characters like Preacher, who in a single speech to Lydia not only irreversibly steals the film but also encapsulates a fairly hefty amount of what can be said to be different between both sides.

Not that this film is entirely cerebral, though; we’re not necessarily dealing with No Country For Old Men here. If anything, this film has a pitch-black comedic streak running through it, largely carried by John and his general outlook of the world. Humour is pretty much the most human psychological defence in existence; rather than telling people to walk off their severed leg, we tend to have more a tendency to tell the victim in question to laugh it off. As callous as that may sound, it can often be the only way to fight off some of the darker aspects of life. No better personified is that than with John and Lydia, both with their respective scar tissue due to their interactions with the criminal life and both at differing points in terms of how to cope with it.

There’s a reason why I highlighted their discussion involving surrender before, and it isn’t just because it gives me another excuse to stick it to Lights Out because, no, I’m still not over that yet. It’s because it makes every odd and sometimes jarring interjection of humour that John and indeed other characters bring to the picture feel… right, in their own twisted ways. Rather than just being fun and quite funny in places, this film actually ends up doing more justification for this style of storytelling than I ever expected to see in something this recent. Or, if that’s too heavy for you, something about an AA sponsor brandishing a shotgun in a thug’s face just makes me laugh. Maybe I’m just as twisted as John, I don’t know.

Now for the action, and those who are regular readers should already know why I left this for last. At any rate, as I said before, this follows the standard action-thriller formula and that does bleed into how the fight scenes pan out. Actually, come to think of it, there’s not really that many of them in the first place. When John and Lydia first reconnect, the film starts to feel like it will just focus on detoxing Lydia while John tries to fight his own addictions; kind of like a Lifetime Original Movie approach to the subject, only with more blood. Now, even though this mood is quickly shaken-up once the thugs get involved, that tone sticks with the rest of the film. This film has a lot more to say about the mechanisms behind the violence rather the violence itself and, for someone who incessantly reads into films way too much anyway, I approve.

There’s a touch of institutionalisation that gets thrown into the mix about what makes these people who they are (the bikers, at least) and where the chain breaks if it does at all, and while the fight scenes can muddy that up just a touch, it makes for a more thoughtful action film than we have been getting of late. Hell, as much as I liked Furious 7 from last year, I’m not going to head out and say that it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever seen. Anyway, talking about the actual action scenes themselves: Aside from the finale, where Gibson officially cuts loose in more ways than one, there isn’t a whole lot to write home about here. Unless you have an inexorable liking for up-ended caravans, of course.

All in all, gotta admit, I really friggin’ liked this film. The acting is solid with one of the more entertaining cast of characters in cinemas right now, the direction can be a bit hackneyed but knows how to stage each scene properly, the writing factors in the criminal mindset, familial bonds (both blood and proximal) as well as a disarmingly realistic discussion of the ultimate surrender to create textual gold despite its genre restraints, and the action is good if not all that memorable a couple hours after leaving the cinema. Except for the finale, which is made of awesome.

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