Blood Father reminds us why Mel Gibson was once a major movie star, and it does so in the very best B-movie tradition. Flashes of the Mad Max/John Riggs side of his screen persona help Gibson show, with the right role, how he can still carry a picture, appearing in nearly every scene after the opening sequence. If time has slightly dulled some of the disgraceful things in Gibson's offscreen past then Blood Father affords the actor one of his most entertaining and satisfying turns in years.
As the movie begins, a teenaged girl (Erin Moriarty) is seen buying case after case of bullets at a large Wal-Mart-like retailer but gets told she'll need to show ID to purchase cigarettes. (Incidentally, there are a couple more little politically-minded jabs along the way but nothing quite resembling an agenda.) She returns to a car full of hyper, tattooed gang members en route to a seemingly normal residence where the girl is forced into a life-altering act, putting her at odds with her boyfriend (Diego Luna) and his cronies. We soon find out the girl, named Lydia, went missing a couple years earlier and her father, played by Gibson, is an ex-con and recovering alcoholic doing tattoos from his trailer. The premise expands a bit beyond having Gibson's John Link simply act as protector to his daughter but that's a fair enough starting point.
Its leanness is one of the film's greatest assets. Beyond just the somewhat quick running time there's an unmistakeable momentum that keeps the narrative humming along with all of the grit and dirt inherent to a B-movie genre exercise like this. Gibson's screen presence elevates it further but the plot, based on Peter Craig's 2005 novel, is familiar enough to grab the viewer yet also sufficiently compelling to keep us on the hook. Craig, who previously earned screenwriting credits for The Town and the last two Hunger Games movies and is the son of Sally Field, adapted his novel along with the writer Andrea Berloff, an Oscar nominee just last year for her work on the Straight Outta Compton script. The behind the scenes strengths continue with director Jean-Francois Richet, who previously made the two-part Mesrine pictures as well as the reasonably good Assault on Precinct 13 remake. His longtime cinematographer Robert Gantz captures some gorgeous desert vistas here.
Alongside William H. Macy playing Link's AA sponsor and trailer park neighbor, Michael Parks fills out the supporting cast as an old acquaintance of Link's who has the potential to both help and hurt his chances at survival while he's on the run. That Parks' character sells Nazi and Confederate memorabilia online makes for a somewhat cruel inside joke in relation to Gibson's well-documented controversies. Still, the presence of Parks fits the film to a tee and his role gives some much-needed life to Link's past. With the minimal exposition offered initially, having the sequences with Parks makes Link an even more compelling character.
There's a scene early in the film where the gang of tattooed miscreants are terrorizing Link and his daughter inside his trailer. It's an intense moment, with Link easily able to do more damage than he ultimately does but always cognizant of the potential consequences of an ex-con's actions. So as Link is being fired upon and having his trailer destroyed, Gibson plays it with the same chattering, manic calmness from the Lethal Weapon movies, and it feels invigorating. It's difficult to say what kind of legacy Mel Gibson will ultimately have - though Braveheart surely guarantees him eternal attention on some level - but Blood Father can easily be seen as a nice point of late-career intrigue.
Blood Father sat on the shelf over two years before it reached U.S. cinemas in a brief theatrical run. Now it's been released on disc by Lionsgate. This Region A-locked BD is single-layered and also contains a code for the Digital HD version.
Presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, it looks quite good here. Detail is first-rate and the desert colors seem faithfully reproduced. I saw no instances of any technical or compression issues.
The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track holds its own nicely. Dialogue and musical cues are easily recognized and sharp. There are optional subtitles in English, Spanish, and English for the hearing impaired.
A featurette on the disc, "Lost Souls: On the Road with Blood Father" (27:50), takes us through the making-of process and features interviews with the principals, including Gibson.