Blood Father

 

            “You look like a court-appointed attorney.  Your tie isn't even tied right.”

            Yeah, that's what Link (Mel Gibson) looks like when he tries to wear a suit.  He looks like the kind of guy who isn't used to wearing a suit.  Valid criticism.

            But you have to consider the source:  a lifelong con, in prison.  Link, an ex-con himself, was making a visit to an old connection of his, a guy who obviously still pulled some strings from his jail cell. Not that Link hadn't tried to be rid of that life, and all that went with it.

            When we first meet Link, he's giving testimony at an AA meeting.  He seems very earnest about the whole self-deprecatory routine, about how he was the one who messed up his life.  He's not blaming anyone else.  He's accepting responsibility.  He's been sober for two years, and taking it “one day at a time.”  He's managed to get a place of his own; a double-wide trailer out in the desert that doubles as a tattoo parlor, where's he's the tattoo artist.  In the same little trailer park lives his sponsor, Kirby (William H. Macy), and a motley collection of other guys who are all trying to pick up the pieces and salvage what they can from the wreck they've made of their lives.

            The biggest regret Link has is his estrangement from his wife and daughter.  Well, the ex-wife thing doesn't bother him so much anymore.  She won't have anything to do with him, anyway.  But his missing daughter haunts him.  He doesn't know what's happened to her, and he fears the worst.  Then one day, out of the blue, he gets a desperate call from her.  She's in trouble, and needs money.  He tells her to stay put, he's coming right now.  And he drops what's he's doing and goes to rescue her.

            Except it's not as easy as it sounds.  Lydia (Erin Moriarty) is a runaway and a druggie, and the company she's been keeping lately is the worst possible:  drug dealers.  From powerful gangs.  The type of people who will not just corrupt her, they would never let her walk out of “the life,” either.  They'll come after her.

            Link tries to take her home and “dry her out,” though Kirby tells him to take her to detox.  Link isn't going to let her out of his sight now that he's finally with her.  Link tries to call her mother, but she picks up the phone and starts yelling at him to leave her alone, she's got a new life now, and hangs up on him before he can even say anything.  So much for any help from that quarter.

            Soon enough, the drug toughs come looking for Lydia.  Straight to his front door.  And Link barely escapes with his frightened daughter, with a little help from his friends, and then goes seeking some assistance from an old compadre of his that he figures still owes him, but there isn't always honor among ex-cons.  So Link puts on his “Beast” mode, his protective father persona, and it will have to do.

            Mel Gibson, despite his fall from grace in traditional Hollywood films, still has the acting chops to make this character believable, and veteran television actress Erin Moriarty is still young enough to play the teenage runaway effectively.  Sure, it's gritty and violent, but not gratuitously; it's contextual with the story, as is the pervasive street language.  “Blood Father” is short and straightforward, mostly grim, a little touching, and altogether good theater.

 

Questions for Discussion

1)                  Have you ever known a teenage runaway situation to turn out well for everybody?

2)                  Is there anything you wouldn't do for your own kid?

3)                  Have you ever been completely over your head in a situation and couldn't figure your way out?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association