Blood Father is about John Link (Mel Gibson), an ex-convict on parole now having a go at living clean. He’s been sober for a couple of years and is trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter Lydia (Erin Moriarty). Out of the blue, Lydia reaches out to him, hitting him out for two thousand dollars so that she can avoid some trouble. It turns out that Lydia has gotten on the wrong side of some very dangerous people, having shot her abusive boyfriend, who was a criminal with drug cartel connections. Link is forced to go back to who he once was in order to protect his only daughter.
This is a very straightforward, almost classic action film that is enhanced by a certain sense of self-awareness. Mel Gibson is a star that comes with some baggage, and in this story, the actor embraces all of it. Link is a character that openly admits to being a dirtbag and actually apologizes for it at certain points. But it is also his worst impulses that make him such a fitting hero for a grimy action movie such as this. It’s hard not to read into it a bit: seeing the actor as a person trying to redeem himself in the eyes of the public by showing them again what it is that made him such a compelling screen presence.
The result is moderately entertaining and mildly funny. Its best joke might be at the very start, and it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Boxes of ammunition make their way down a checkout conveyor belt. Lydia then asks for a pack of cigarettes but is asked for ID. This is the world in which these characters exist: a world where there are more than enough bullets to go around. It’s a grimy, horrible world that makes it possible for a scumbag like Link to emerge a relative hero.
This is mostly just an opportunity to let Gibson do what he does best: play a tough guy hero with darker depths and the ability to deliver the perfect one-liner. The plot is kind of nonsense, and the arc between him and his daughter hardly ever materializes, but there’s still a distinct thrill in watching Gibson’s character walk into trouble, knowing full well he’s going to get hurt, but willing to take it if it means dealing out some damage of his own.
It’s a very simple thing, but it’s pretty effective. The rest of the film keeps it pretty simple as well. The action is decidedly old school. The movie largely eschews flash and prioritizes clarity and tension. In the middle of a shootout, the film actually comes close to something of a profound character moment. Again, it’s nothing new in the Gibson filmography, but it’s actually become increasingly rare in this era of excessive bombast. And again, Gibson is great in this role. Erin Moriarty does not at all look like a teenager, but her messy toughness certainly gets the character across.
Blood Father is a trip back into the past; back when things were simpler, and the movie’s star wasn’t such a controversial figure. His hair is grayer now, but this is the Mel Gibson of the Lethal Weapon movies: an actor with wild eyes conveying a sense of dread and weariness that lends depth to otherwise stock action movie characters. The movie as a whole has its problems, particularly deep in the middle section where the plot starts to feel randomly thrown together, and inconsistencies in theme start to emerge. But its simple, straightforward approach to action filmmaking has its merits as well.