Blood Father

Chew on this you drug-pushing scum

blood1Hey, Mel Gibson’s back. Well, of course he is, I’m sure plenty of you have seen him in other stuff recently (didn’t he make some comedies?) since he upset people shouting his mouth off in the ‘real world’ about things he shouldn’t have, but this here must be the first thing I’ve seen him in since Edge of Darkness in 2010- no, wait, he was in The Expendables 3, wasn’t he (good grief I’d almost mercifully forgotten that). So anyway, for me its been awhile (my favourite Mel film is Payback, I think, although Braveheart is unabashedly daft fun).

And what do you know, Blood Father turned out pretty good, in a sort of check your brain at the door, soak up the action, kind of way, when I’d expected some pretty dismal, straight-to-video stuff from the premise. Its b-movie, but classy b-movie, I suppose, if that’s even a thing.

Mel is Link, ex-con and recovering alcoholic, running a tattoo business in a trashy trailer melting in the desert sun in a god-forsaken middle of nowhere, when suddenly his long-lost daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty, the weak link (sic) of the film), from an earlier failed marriage rings him begging for help, having gotten mixed up with the wrong sort of drug-dealing scum. Well, you can guess where this thing is going, I suppose Liam Neeson must have been busy. Link drives off to rescue her and gets her back to his trailer, but she’s not being 100% honest with her long-lost dad because she’s being hunted down by pissed off drug-runners/dealers/bandits and a super-assassin too. And they soon come calling.

But Link is pretty bad-ass himself, and while he’d prefer to maintain his quiet life and ‘enjoy’ his parole, long-lost daughters in trouble come first. So of course it’s not long until all hell breaks loose.

To be honest, Mel dominates this film, carrying it all by himself, indeed in spite of Moriarty, who is a) too pretty and b) not in the slightest bit convincing, as his daughter. Her casting and indeed her character is all some kind of bizarre throwback to a 1980s movie starring that Seagull sorry Seagal fella – it’s like the last thirty years never happened. Physically Mel is pretty formidable, all bulked up and craggy and rough and yes, quite a convincing action figure for a guy who turned sixty when this came out, but it’s the performance that counts, almost demanding the camera’s sole attention in every scene he’s in- shades of Lethal Weapon etc.  Its a suggestion he may yet have great, even career-best things ahead of him yet.

Its pretty formulaic otherwise , but there’s a pretty impressive cast shuffled in behind Mel (William H Macy, Michael Parks) and there’s plenty of action to hold attention between the talky bits and Moriarty, bless her, trying to derail the enterprise with every scene she’s lost in.

John Wick (2014)

jwickJohn Wick. Hell of an action movie. Don’t know what the body-count in this one is but it’s got to be up there. If you want a high-octane action flick with some astonishingly well-choreographed stunts/fight sequences, this one fits the bell admirably.Its this years Taken (although a better film than Taken, to be sure), John Wick also reminds me a great deal of Payback, Brian Helgeland’s noir thriller that starred Mel Gibson as a bitter criminal seeking revenge on his back-stabbing partners in crime (indeed it shares a similar plot and modern-noir swagger- if you liked Payback you’ll likely love John Wick).

Sure, one could take issues with some of the twists of the plot, and how realistic it is for one guy to take on a Russian crime-bosses army of thugs in a city seemingly bereft of a police force, but that’s not the point with films like this. Its an action romp with a plot that simply serves to pile on the mayhem. And what mayhem it is, a welcome antidote to the toy-town violence of something like The Expendables 3, here its an adult violence, brutal and graphic and with consequences, more like that of The Raid films (indeed it could be said that with The Raid films, Dredd, Mad Max:Fury Road and John Wick the modern action film is enjoying something of a resurgence of late). Thankfully like those films, the film is brisk and doesn’t over-complicate things. Keeping it simple seems to be the modern action film, and it doesn’t hurt to hark back to the golden age of the 1970s in style and sensibility.

Keanu Reeves does well as the titular character. In truth the part suits him well; he doesn’t have to emote very much but he does have a sympathetic streak and shows some vulnerability to his character that helps the audience empathise with what might otherwise have been a heartless one-dimensional cold-bloodied killer. Reeves handles the physicality of the role -its stunts etc- very well indeed, as might be expected from his Matrix films. It took me most of the film to finally recognise Michael Nyqvist from the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo films- you know how it is when you recognise the face but can’t quite place it (although he has aged some to be fair)- well, Nyqvist bugged me for most of the film. He’s very, very good here as the mafia boss whose son has wronged his ex-hitman John Wick, so good he nearly steals the show. Alfie Allen is great as the bad-to-the-bone son Iosef whose over-confidence threatens to bring down his fathers empire, and there are also lovely turns by Willem Dafoe and Lance Reddick (a favourite from the good old Fringe tv-series days)- it’s a great cast.

Beyond all the violence and the blood, there is a lovely mythology to this film, a shared history between the characters, almost as if we are watching film two of a trilogy- sly references and reminiscences between them slipped into the dialogue. Nothing is over-explained, just threads left hanging there- background characters like a cop that knows Wick and turns a blind eye to some bodies,or the leader of a clean-up squad always keen on more business, or Ian McShane’s excellent cameo as the proprietor of a hotel whose guests, assassins all, are strictly under pains to behave (or else). There is a lovely sense of logic to it and humour. I’d prefer the film to be left as it is, but I’m sadly confident that its success will gestate inferior sequels that will dilute it (seems to be how the film industry works these days); I’d prefer to have it left as it is and for the threads to just stay open to the imagination. Why spoil it with more movies?

It is what it is. Leave your brain at the door and enjoy one of the better action films of the last few years. Some people will be horrified by John Wick and question its violence, its politics and gender-roles but that’s not the point of films like this (at least until it is ripped apart by film theorists in twenty years time). Its just a cool action movie. Expect no more and you’ll be pleasantly entertained.