This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
When Mel Gibson was first becoming known as a film actor, he had a lot of obvious things going for him: acting talent, good looks, ruggedness, a charisma that could land on either side of “sly” or “menacing.” In other words, arguably, all the stardom requisites. But he was interesting beyond that, because of the movies he was in. Pictures such as “Mad Max” and “The Year of Living Dangerously” were debatably genre pictures but they had energy and intelligence that was way beyond generic. It seemed also that Gibson had meaningful alliances with the makers of those films, directors George Miller and Peter Weir. Whether it was just happenstance that all these guys were coming up in the Australian film industry at the same time or if Gibson himself was indeed a more-discriminating-than-average film actor didn’t matter; it looked good. And when Gibson made his big-Hollywood move in “Lethal Weapon” he did, although it’s tough to really remember it properly now, play a pretty odd variant of the risk-everything-cop-hero.
I don’t need to rehash the personal explosions perpetrated by Gibson that, among other things, put his career in a kind of purgatory. I can infer, though, that a casual Gibson follower discovering that this week he stars in an action thriller called “Blood Father” might himself infer that Gibson is working his way out of that purgatory via the Nicolas Cage route of hastily conceived and assembled shoot-em-up hackwork. I am pleased to report this is not actually the case. Clocking in at a fat-free 88 minutes, “Blood Father,” directed by Jean-François Richet (the man behind the Vincent Cassel gangster epic “Mesrine”) is an efficient and pleasurable bad-man-tries-to-go-good exposition that gives Gibson ample opportunity to flex his now-somewhat-grizzled movie-star muscle.
The movie opens with a shot of a young girl in a missing-person’s flyer, then cuts to a shot of a retail-market conveyer belt moving lots of boxes of bullets, and finally a pack of bubblegum. The young woman buying the stuff, Lydia (Erin Moriarty) is the girl from the flyer; when she asks that a pack of Camel Lights be added to her purchase, the cashier asks her for proof of age. Get it? Fortunately that’s the movie’s first and last venture into coy “Ain’t That ‘Murica?” humor. Lydia delivers the ammo to a car full of her shady pals, including a slicked-down Diego Luna, and they’re off on a pretty bad misadventure.
Cut to a closeup of Gibson, his very lined face partially covered by a very full beard, making a confession in an AA meeting. Gibson’s ex-con John Link is two years sober, has a vigilant sponsor named Kirby (William H. Macy), and runs a tattoo parlor out of a big trailer in a very sparsely populated California trailer park. And on the corkboard at the entry of the trailer is, yep, that missing persons flyer with young Lydia’s picture on it. So you know who’s going to be on the other end of the line when the phone rings.
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