Recovering alcoholic ex-con John Link (Mel Gibson) is scraping out a living as a trailer park tattoo artist clinging to the hope of reuniting with his estranged, wayward daughter. But when the young woman (Erin Moriarty) suddenly shows up in serious danger, Link will have to draw on his criminal past if they’re to survive.
Since his drunken 2010 outbursts and other revelations landed him in career jail, Mel Gibson’s mostly just kept his head down, done his time and, more recently, tried to dip his toe back into working both behind and in front of the camera, with varying results. It’s tempting to think he took the lead in Jean-François Richet’s pulpy, throwback action thriller because it offers a much bloodier, vengeful metaphor for his story, but it’s more likely he was attracted to the role of John Link because it let him channel the sort of characters he used to play so well. Link could very easily be an aged Martin Riggs, albeit one with an even darker past and less inclination to stay on the right side of the law.
If you miss what Mel Gibson used to be, you’ll find an acceptable, if slightly careworn version here.
The film, written by Peter Craig (the story comes from his 2006 novel) and Andrea Berloff (World Trade Center, Straight Outta Compton), at times feels like just another variant on the particular action genre that was re-established by Taken in 2008 — we have yet another father forced to rely on his particular set of skills to save his daughter from a nightmare scenario. There are the obligatory desperate phone calls shot through with promises of violence, the typical gang of enforcers sent to shoot, punch or kidnap the right target, and the times when our main man lets the muzzle of a pistol do the talking for him.
In this case, the familiar situation is let a little further off the leash, powered by Gibson’s growly, wrinkly, bearded tough nut, one with very little patience for people who try to kill him. It’s an ideal role for the actor, and he’s well balanced by Moriarty’s occasionally sulky, but usually spirited Lydia, who is looking for her own measure of redemption even as she’s not quite sure how to achieve it. Their fractured relationship is given room to breathe with several heart-to-heart conversations that mean it’s not wall-to-wall action.
However, that side of the movie doesn’t always entirely work; several moments of daddy-daughter bonding come across as overly melodramatic, movie-of-the-week-style scenes, while the grit and grime feels awfully routine as clashes happen in dusty, out-of-the-way places that mean there’s little law enforcement around to stop the bullets flying. And Richet favours a jittery camera style that is distracting in some of the set-pieces.
Fortunately, he’s also stacked the cast with reliable performers, including William H. Macy as Link’s pal and sponsor, Kirby, Miguel Sandoval as unforgiving crime boss Arturo, and Michael Parks, all gruff charm as our hero’s old biker leader, Preacher, a man with a hoard of weapons you just know will come in handy. Still, it’s Gibson’s film through and through, and if you miss what he used to be, you’ll find an acceptable, if slightly careworn version here.
This is Mel Gibson back to doing what he once did best, just older and grumpier. The movie has problems but delivers when it needs to.