Everyone has a story. No matter where people are in life there are a web of events that brought them there. Perhaps our worst judgments are made when we fail to consider a person’s web, or forget that we could be where they are if our own web were different. Blood Father is a film about people on the wrong side of the American Dream. They don’t have great degrees and well-paying jobs. They are the white working class “problem” we read about in so many think pieces. It’s a very good pulp thriller that also provides a timely political picture of where a big part of the country is right now.
Mel Gibson plays John Link, a tattoo artist and ex-con living in a trailer park in the Southwestern US. As he tells us in his AA meeting to open the film, his life is a series of addictions, f ups, and broken relationships. But he hasn’t given up; he’s genuinely trying to do better in spite of it all. It’s no accident that Gibson is so good in this role. Whether or not you can look past his troubling history is up to each individual. No doubt that it’s easier for me to do because I’m not Jewish, or black, or a woman. But he is so good in this role and it’s a reminder of what a captivating, likable presence he can be on screen. The role gives him the kind of material he works best with, and I hope he can keep it together and similar stuff will come his way again.
The film’s drama comes when Link is reunited with his estranged daughter Lydia. She’s run afoul of the Mexican cartels and has a death mark on her. From here the film becomes a chase story with Link attempting to keep her safe. He sees her heading down the same path he followed and wants to stop it. She’s the hope and bright future that he has lost. If he can save that for her, he will have redeemed a part of himself.
Michael Parks has a great bit role as Preacher, a former associate of Link’s now living on a compound selling Nazi memorabilia online. He’s a chilling example of the kind of existence Link could descend to, and Link recoils from him because of it. The film’s political commentary is subtle rather than overt and that makes it all the more powerful. At one point Lydia gives a witty response to the “they’re taking our jobs” argument that’s more effective than a thousand speeches. The cartel members haunt the film like ghosts. Why would you join a cartel? In many cases because you have no other opportunity of purpose. The backgrounds of Mexican cartel members and the blue collar whites in Link’s trailer park are not entirely different. They are all people that the Dream bypassed.
What Link and his daughter are searching for is a sense of hope, dignity, and purpose. That’s all anyone really wants. Blood Father is a moving dramatization of that struggle. In an America where the Dream seems often illusive, it’s good to remember the dignity of those still struggling for it. As someone who was born with all the advantages that John Link was not, I recognize that with another web my story would be very similar to his own.