What makes a good father? This is a question I grapple with daily, now that I am one. The last year has been a never-ending roller coaster of learning what it means to be a dad. It’s been exhilarating and exhausting, but mostly, it’s been happy. My kid is amazing. He’s cuter than any other kid. Smarter, too. I’m sure I’m the first person to ever realize this. The other thing I’ve realized is what I would give up for him. What I would do keep him safe. To give him a better shot at life.
So, this is where this Grade A “B-Movie” met me. Make no mistake, this is pure action schlock. It’s fumbly with dialogue and more rushed than nuanced.
I’ll be damned if I did’t love it.
First of all, Mel drives a Nova in this. A crappy, 1973 all-American P.O.S. Nova. You get points right of the bat with me for that. He obviously doesn’t deserve a “souped up” movie car, because this movie is all about making up for being a bad father. And bad father’s don’t get cool cars in movies like this(but, a cool motorcycle? Damn straight).
Score another point for taking it away from our “hero.” That trope still hunts.
Secondly, for most of this movie, Mel Gibson is yelling and cussing like it’s the 80’s. A decade that this film owes no insignificant debt to. We meet John Link as he is running down his past crimes at an AA meeting. How he’s 2 years sober and 1 year out of the clink. How his life has changed. This isn’t so much the character talking as it is Mel Gibson. It’s clunky, but it works overall. His relationship with his daughter is kind of refreshing. She gets into some trouble after going missing for some amount of years and who does she call? Her mom and her mom’s third husband? No. She calls dad. Now, he hasn’t seen her and doesn’t know where she’s been for like 4 years or whatever, but what does our man do? He drops everything to help her. There’s an immediate trust between them that should feel more unnatural, but I didn’t miss the whole “you’re helping me, but I’m going to run away from you” stuff you find in most movies like this. It’s more like, “I’m screwed and you are the only person who could remotely help me.” I dig. So, they go on the run and we meet some of his unsavory “friends” from the past, culminating in one of the more affecting film climaxes I’ve seen since becoming a dad. In all honesty, this would probably make a great double feature with Taken. The first one. Those sequels are trash, but there’s many a parallel between John Link and Bryan Mills as far as motivation. Their skill sets are certainly different.
Thirdly: Oh, hello there William H. Macy! Wish we got to see more of you.
Finally: of note is how beautifully shot this thing is. The DP certainly earned their paycheck here and the action is easy to follow, which is one of those technical things that is HUGELY important but no one in big budget Hollywood understands these days. And the world it depicts seems well lived-in. These kinds of details score even more points. It adds up to a wholly satisfying experience because this whole movie is dirty and grimy and sun-baked and just a hot-mess.
And, well, that’s kind of a good metaphor for life and being a parent. No one has it all figured out. If they claim they do, they’re lying their ass off. This kind of felt like how Martin Riggs life would have turned out if he had never become a cop and managed to live long enough. That surprised me. The trailer is there. There is talk of suicide. And, well, this Link dude is kind of unhinged. Think: what would Riggs have become without Murtaugh? Anyway… yes, it’s hard to separate Mel Gibson from his past(in film and real life), but the bottom line here is that when the credits rolled, I kept coming back to this: how far would I go to protect my kid and am I a good father?
I can’t say I’ve seen any other films since becoming a dad that have made me ponder that.