Starring: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna
Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Running Time: 86mins
Synopsis: Ex-con John Link (Gibson) is reunited with his estranged daughter (Moriarty) when she turns up on his doorstep after falling in with some incredibly violent gang members. As they hunt Lydia down, John must tap into his violent past in order to protect her.
Mel Gibson! Where have you been? Of course that is a stupid question, in a self imposed career wasteland after his unfortunate encounter with a female cop over 10 years ago, only briefly popping up to direct thrilling subtitled chase movies (Apocalypto) or star in friends films (his last starring role was in Jodie Foster’s The Beaver in 2011). Fortunately this year he is attempting a return to the light. First in this muscular B-movie and then a return to the directors chair for the already well reviewed Hacksaw Ridge this Christmas. Based on this film though it’s clear he has lost none of that grizzled, captivating mix of angry and vulnerable that made him such a talent to begin with.
Some have argued that Gibson chose this tale of a man seeking redemption for his past mistakes as his return to film due to its somewhat mirrored view of his own life. I would like to disagree, although there are aspects of that there, Gibson probably sought this out due to its mix of his familiar tropes. A layered central role that marries violent action scenes with witty character interactions, wrapped up in a lean and bleak b-movie scenario. Even the settings with its empty wasteland and brutal biker gangs is reminiscent of his debut role as Mad Max.
This is very much a B-movie though, but is giving added heft by not only Gibson’s authentically raw performance but stable direction from Richet and the films trump card, a surprisingly humorous and witty script by Peter Craig (what’s even more surprising is he adapts from his own novel). It doesn’t do the villains much favour, depicting them as racial stereotypes, with only Diego Luna’s central bad standing out as a cowardly wannabe gang leader. Erin Moriarty is somewhat hit and miss as Link’s daughter too, she sells a girl who has fallen into a scary situation via her own self destructive tendencies but too frequently falls into regular periods of whining and hyper verbal rants. It becomes a little noisy when you just want to focus on Gibson’s quiet intensity. However their relationship is neatly told. Mainly in moving glances Mel gives her when it becomes evident she has made similar mistakes to himself, it gives weight to his mission to protect her. In a life full of poor judgements and violence, protecting her gives him the chance to correct all that. It is cliched for sure, but Gibson and Moriarty sell every minute of it. Interestingly the script portrays John Link as someone who actually enjoys all this chaos Lydia brings down upon him, which makes for a refreshing change to the usual man who rejects his violent past trope.
As a warm and decent William H Macy arrives as Link’s honest best friend it is evident that genre boxes are being ticked here. Let’s face it this role features in most of these films and it is quite frequently played by Bill Macy!! But you’ll be having too much fun to care. The tight pace, rugged action and heartfelt ending all add up to a solid return for Mel Gibson. It won’t set the world alight but as a toe dipper into the world of starring roles he couldn’t have chosen better.
Verdict: Lean, muscular and darkly funny. Mel Gibson reminds us all of why he was once a star with a raw and gritty central performance. Welcome back Mel, let’s hope you stick around this time!!