Blood Father Review
Since his first movie in 1995, Inner City (État des lieux in French), a movie about the life in French suburbs released the same year than La Haine, Jean-Francois Richet (the Mesrine diptych) has been diligently building an interesting career revolving around the idea of rebellion against social determinism.
With Blood Father, his eighth feature film, he perseveres in this direction and offers, at the same, to Mel Gibson (Lethal Weapon) a beautifully moving role of rebellious father who will stop at nothing for the sake of his daughter.
After her drug kingpin boyfriend (Diego Luna, Y Tu Mamá También) frames her for stealing a fortune in cartel cash, 17-year-old Lydia (Erin Moriarty, The Kings of Summer) goes on the run, with only one ally in this whole wide world: her perennial screw-up of a dad, John Link (Gibson), who's been a motorcycle outlaw, and a convict in his time, and now is determined to keep his little girl from harm and, for once in his life, do the right thing...
Yes, it is a very classic story. Richet knows it and he does not try to overcomplicate a plot that does not need it. And if some of the elements of its premise might assimilate the movie to a Taken derivative, it is definitely not the case and Blood Father proves far more accomplished on one essential aspect, the characterisation of its characters, and thus easily rises above team Besson’s dumb series of broken bones and stupid dialogue festival.
The core of the movie for Richet is the relationship between John and Lydia. And although quite short, Blood Father makes very palpable and believable the relationship between these two characters, their love but also the distrust they may have for their respective life choices. For example, if John welcomes Lydia quickly back into his semblance of life, he does not forget that she could lead him to relapse into his drinking addiction or, worst, back to prison.
Without the use of easy artifice, such as flashback or voice-over narration, Richet manages to give flesh to John Link, his past, his mistakes and make his redemption truly complicated. Richet is greatly helped in this task by one of the best actors of its generation. In Blood Father, Gibson reminds current audiences that, in addition to being a great director (which he will most certainly prove again with his upcoming Hacksaw Ridge), he is unmatched in humanising cinema’s archetypal characters (re-watching Mad Mad, Lethal Weapon or Ransom perfectly demonstrates this). Without its subtle performance, perfectly balancing grumpiness, tenderness, despair and hope, John Link would not arouse the same level of empathy. Richet knows this and he manages to captures all the nuances of this performance by multiplying beautiful close-ups of Gibson’s wrinkled and weathered face.
Thanks to Gibson, a spot-on cast (Moriarty, perfect as Lydia, but also the always impeccable William H. Macy (Fargo) as John’s AA sponsor, Kirby, and Luna, adequately threatening yet somewhat touching as Lydia’s boyfriend Jonah) and a fairly radical vision of a derelict America, Richet manages to transcend Blood Father’s conventional premise and pulp novel narration.
Without any pretention, and aware of the anachronism of his organic and pragmatic directing style, the French director resuscitates the bygone age of 70’s B-movies during which directors like Don Siegel (Dirty Harry) or Ted Post (Magnum Force) excelled at telling a story where what counted was the characters.