BLOOD FA­THER

Empire (UK) - - ON SCREEN - JAMES WHITE

DIREC­TOR Jean-françois Richet CAST Mel Gib­son, Erin Mo­ri­arty, Wil­liam H Macy, Diego Luna, Michael Parks

PLOT Re­cov­er­ing al­co­holic ex-con John Link (Gib­son) is scrap­ing out a liv­ing as a trailer park tat­too artist cling­ing to the hope of re­unit­ing with his es­tranged, way­ward daugh­ter. But when the young woman (Mo­ri­arty) sud­denly shows up in se­ri­ous danger, Link will have to draw on his crim­i­nal past if they’re to sur­vive.

SINCE HIS DRUNKEN 2010 out­bursts and other rev­e­la­tions landed him in ca­reer jail, Mel Gib­son’s mostly just kept his head down, done his time and, more re­cently, tried to dip his toe back into work­ing both be­hind and in front of the cam­era, with vary­ing re­sults. It’s tempt­ing to think he took the lead in Jeanfrançois Richet’s pulpy, throw­back ac­tion thriller be­cause it of­fers a much blood­ier, venge­ful metaphor for his story, but it’s more likely he was at­tracted to the role of John Link be­cause it let him chan­nel the sort of char­ac­ters he used to play so well. Link could very eas­ily be an aged Martin Riggs, al­beit one with an even darker past and less in­cli­na­tion to stay on the right side of the law.

The film, writ­ten by Peter Craig (the story comes from his 2006 novel) and An­drea Berloff (World Trade Cen­ter, Straight Outta Comp­ton), at times feels like just an­other vari­ant on the par­tic­u­lar ac­tion genre that was re-es­tab­lished by Taken in 2008 — we have yet an­other fa­ther forced to rely on his par­tic­u­lar set of skills to save his daugh­ter from a night­mare sce­nario. There are the oblig­a­tory des­per­ate phone calls shot through with prom­ises of vi­o­lence, the typ­i­cal gang of en­forcers sent to shoot, punch or kid­nap the right target, and the times when our main man lets the muz­zle of a pis­tol do the talk­ing for him.

In this case, the fa­mil­iar sit­u­a­tion is let a lit­tle fur­ther off the leash, pow­ered by Gib­son’s growly, wrinkly, bearded tough nut, one with very lit­tle pa­tience for peo­ple who try to kill him. It’s an ideal role for the ac­tor, and he’s well bal­anced by Mo­ri­arty’s oc­ca­sion­ally sulky, but usually spir­ited Lydia, who is look­ing for her own mea­sure of re­demp­tion even as she’s not quite sure how to achieve it. Their frac­tured re­la­tion­ship is given room to breathe with sev­eral heart-to-heart con­ver­sa­tions that mean it’s not wall-to-wall ac­tion.

How­ever, that side of the movie doesn’t al­ways en­tirely work; sev­eral mo­ments of daddy-daugh­ter bond­ing come across as overly melo­dra­matic, movie-of-the-week-style scenes, while the grit and grime feels aw­fully rou­tine as clashes hap­pen in dusty, out-of-the-way places that mean there’s lit­tle law en­force­ment around to stop the bul­lets fly­ing. And Richet favours a jit­tery cam­era style that is dis­tract­ing in some of the set-pieces.

For­tu­nately, he’s also stacked the cast with re­li­able per­form­ers, in­clud­ing Wil­liam H Macy as Link’s pal and spon­sor, Kirby, Miguel San­doval as un­for­giv­ing crime boss Ar­turo, and Michael Parks, all gruff charm as our hero’s old biker leader, Preacher, a man with a hoard of weapons you just know will come in handy. Still, it’s Gib­son’s film through and through, and if you miss what he used to be, you’ll find an ac­cept­able, if slightly care­worn ver­sion here.

VER­DICT This is Mel Gib­son back to do­ing what he once did best, just older and grumpier. Like the main char­ac­ter, the movie has prob­lems but de­liv­ers when it needs to.

He’d damn well get those Spring­steen tickets if it killed him.

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