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Friday, 5 August 2016

The Current Cinema - Max Berghouse reviews BLOOD FATHER

Blood Father (2016) Jean-Francois Richet (Director), Chris Briggs, Pascal Caucheteux (Producers), Jennifer Roth (Executive Producer), Peter Craig and Andrea Berloff (Screenwriters, based on a novel by Peter Craig), Robert Gantz (Director of Photography) and Sven Faulconer (Film Score).

Releases around Australia on 1 September 2016


During the course of the recent Sydney Film Festival (2016) I committed to the editor of this blog to review each film I saw. I believed that I had done that. Done and dusted. I now realise that I had forgotten that I had seen Blood Father. The fact that I had forgotten the film is probably a shorthand sense of my estimate of the film. Now however I'm trying to untangle my feelings and to be sensible. I was certainly disappointed on viewing but I think that relates to my expectation that at a film festival, one sees the new and the challenging and generally speaking, non-commercial films, because commercial films are likely to be seen in normal release. Secondly Mel Gibson who is only about two years my junior, looks absolutely frightful: bloated and deeply wrinkled and completely unshaven; if the very handsome Mel Gibson of his youth in Australia, now looks like this, what must I, who never started out with much, look like?
Stripped of intellectual pretense (if any) this is a replay of a 1940s B-movie chase, updated for the more coarsened sensibilities of the 21st-century. Mr Gibson plays John Link, a gnarled and world-weary ex-addict (alcohol or drugs or both) earning a precarious living as a tattoo artist in his bedraggled caravan home in the middle of the California desert. There is not the slightest intimation that as an ex-convict, he is innocent of anything he has been punished for, his living conditions are foul or that the way he makes his living is other than "cheap and nasty". There is no glossing over the fact that he is literally and metaphorically "trailer trash".

The regularity of Link's life which mainly concerns sitting around with his best friend and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Kirby (William H Macy) is disrupted by his long estranged daughter Lydia who herself is on the run from Mexican drug lords, all of whom are portrayed as repellent, ugly (because of tats) psychopathic killers. Link and Lydia go on the run, Link to save Lydia, and all hell breaks loose. Pretty much everyone knows what follows: people and property, including valuable property, are all destroyed and so far as all of this goes, it's a great show. Yet at this level, which is the level most people will view it at, it does little more than pass the time.
I have noticed that a number of reviews in commending the performance of Mr Gibson have indicated that he drew on his own immediate prior history of drugs and the booze to find the character of Link. That may be so, in which case the active theatrical creation is not so difficult. But I well remember Mr Gibson as a young actor in Sydney and his creativity, even then, was pretty much unrivalled on the Sydney stage. I see no reason to believe that he did otherwise than work his very refined acting chops to produce a near flawless performance in what is necessarily a fairly limited character. Incidentally the performance of the other two main actors, Mr Macy and Ms Erin Moriarty as Lydia, are also faultless. No surprise that in relation to Mr Macy, but some surprise in relation to Ms Moriarty.
At another level which may only reflect my personal predilections, it is an engrossing study of failure or of the lives of those who are left behind in the great American success story. While the film has all the superficial gloss and all the values of a Hollywood production, it does not and doesn't appear to try to gloss over the poverty, including of spirit, of all the main characters. This I suggest comes from the input of the largely European production staff. Europeans especially French intellectuals, retain more than a passing devotion to Marxism and one can see this in the film: circumstances, more than individual choice, have put the characters, especially father and daughter, where there is really no long-term escape. I have frequently before commented that America in its films is largely concerned with the wealthy east and west coasts and ignores "the poor" in for example the South and the heartland of the Midwest. This aspect of the film is quite disheartening, because it's accurate. Needless to say if too many viewers concentrate on this, it probably will be to the detriment of the film as an actioner. People who like B-movie entertainment don't like originality, they like their trash straight up and down.
I think the complete absence of originality ultimately damns the film for me, but it passed the time. Different strokes for different folks!

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