A few months back, I was at a fancy new restaurant — think varnished wood, exposed beams, conspicuously abstract-sounding name — where, as we were about to order, the friend I was eating with made an offhand remark in front of the waiter about his girlfriend always stealing his french fries. “Oh, you guys want french fries?” the waiter asked.
French fries, we thought? At this place? It wasn’t on the menu, and it had never occurred to us. At the same time, who doesn’t like french fries? “Sure,” we said.
“You want those animal style?” the waiter asked. To which we had the same reaction, and offered the same affirmative response.
And so it was we ended up eating animal-style french fries between orders of wood ear mushroom tapas and glazed sweet breads at Burlap and Sage or whatever it was called. The fries were delicious, by the way. How could they not be? An award-winning chef cooking a universally-beloved food is almost never going to be a bad thing.
Which is to say that Blood Father is the movie equivalent of high-end animal fries. I had no idea this was even something I wanted.
Okay, so imagine the animal fries were a Taken movie. And when I say that, I mean Taken the genre, not Taken the movie. Taken is also a Taken movie, but there are lots of Taken movies. There are three that are actually called Taken, three to five more that star Liam Neeson (think Non-Stop, Run All Night, A Walk Among the Tombstones, etc.), and a handful of others that star Neeson-aged actors (see Bruce Willis, Sean Penn, etc.) in Liam Neesons-esque roles.
The basic format is, there’s a middle-aged guy who just wants to live a quiet life, but then someone messes with his family (usually his daughter) and he gets dragged back into whatever bad-guy life he used to lead, as an assassin, a super spy, or whatever. It’s a classic action movie format, but the Taken twist was to cast a lead well into his fifties or sixties, and not one known solely for action (like Charles Bronson, say). Instead they cast a legit near-A-lister with real acting chops (like Liam Neeson, and various Liams Neesons).
Truth be told, I never liked Taken all that much. (THIS IS A GUILTY ADMISSION, PLEASE STOP PELTING ME WITH SMALL ROCKS.) But Blood Father is like all of the melted cheese and special sauce of Taken with none of the grease and exhaust fumes. (Yes, this metaphor is all used up. I also had to think really hard to find something bad about animal fries.)
For a start, Blood Father is perfectly cast, from Mel on down. Gibson plays John Link, proprietor of Missing Link Tattoo, which he runs out of a trailer in Indio, the barren, sweaty asshole of Southern California. Even aside from his personal life, Gibson’s had a bit of a rocky transition from cute, young sex symbol to elder statesmen, but it seems that he’s finally embraced his grizzled hardass, and it suits him, perfectly. It’s not necessarily a lack of vanity so much as properly-directed vanity. His scraggly beard is half grey and he looks more gnarled and weather-beaten than Icelandic driftwood, but there’s a certain kind of beauty that comes from wearing your age like a badge of honor — especially when you’ve got Mel Gibson’s piercing blue eyes and rough/smooth cat’s tongue of a voice. Basically, I’m saying I want to have sex with Mel Gibson. I kid, but with Gibson’s Popeye forearms and Yak scrotum face he’s the very embodiment of “old man strength,” the kind of prickly guy you’d just as soon avoid, but who you’d want on your side in a jam, perfect for a movie like this.