Film reviews round-up: Blood Father, War on Everyone, The Guv'nor

Mel Gibson returns as action hero, an anarchic take on corrupt cops, and a look at the life of boxer Lenny McLean

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The Independent Culture

Blood Father (15)

★★★☆☆

Dir: Jean-François Richet, 88 mins, starring: Mel Gibson, William H Macy, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna

A very craggy and weather-beaten Mel Gibson is well cast in this American-set but French-produced latter-day film noir. He plays John Link, an ex-con, former Hell’s Angel, Vietnam veteran, tattoo artist and recovering alcoholic, living in a trailer in the desert and trying to go straight. Erin Moriarty is his troubled daughter Lydia, who has just shot her mobster boyfriend (Diego Luna) and is now being chased across the country by some very vicious Mexican assassins. Only her dad can save her from the terrifying “sicario” (Raoul Trujillo) who keeps on turning up on her tail.

The screenplay, adapted by Peter Craig from his own novel, has some neat touches and plenty of dry humour. In particular, it highlights the friendship between John Link and his “sponsor” (William H Macy). Diego Luna enjoys himself as the flamboyant villain who refuses to die. 


Gibson’s fatalistic and very deliberate performance is reminiscent of that of Robert Mitchum in Out Of The Past. Whether racing away from his enemies on a Harley Davidson, visiting an old contact incognito in prison, or in the middle of a violent shoot-out, he never breaks a sweat or seems unduly perturbed. He is delighted to have the chance to spend quality time with his daughter, even if they are fleeing for their lives. At one stage, he tells her that he hasn’t had this much fun since he was a kid. 

Jean-François Richet, who also directed cult French gangster movie Mesrine, combines the action and the character schtick in a likeable way. With the beard he wears for the first part of the movie, Gibson looks like a member of ZZ Top. The destructive skills he showed in his Mad Max days are still intact. Gibson is only 60 years old, a few years younger than Liam Neeson, and so could conceivably continue appearing in action movies like this for years to come. He clearly has the knack for it.

 

War On Everyone (15)

★★★☆☆

Dir: John Michael McDonagh, 98 mins, starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Michael Peña, Caleb Landry Jones

This is an amiable but rather pointless comedy-thriller. The setting may be New Mexico, but the shaggy dog story-style humour is exactly the same as in McDonagh’s film about a corrupt policeman in Ireland, The Guard. The main difference here is less blarney and more nods in the direction of Quentin Tarantino.

The heroes are two bent cops, the very tall and very laid-back Detective Terry Monroe (Skarsgård) and his small and venal sidekick, Detective Bob Bolaño (Peña). They’re first seen running over a mime artist. (They’re fascinated to see whether he will say anything.) For no reason at all, other than perhaps the producers received a tax credit for going there, there is a brief interlude in Iceland.

War On Everyone - Trailer 2

Caleb Landry Jones, looking like David Bowie in his Hunky Dory stage, is one of the villains, a nightclub owner with very twisted tastes, but the main antagonist is the well spoken aristocrat Lord James Mangan (Theo James). He is behind the heist the cops are trying to bust.

McDonagh writes some very funny (albeit very prurient) dialogue and uses Glen Campbell songs to glorious effect on the soundtrack. Like Tarantino, he is as interested in ideas and character as he is in gunplay and violence. Skarsgård is appealing as the cop so laid-back that he takes the most savage beatings in his stride (“Is that all you’ve got?” he taunts his aggressors when he is up against the ropes).

Tessa Thompson registers strongly as his ex-stripper, feminist intellectual girlfriend and there’s an enjoyably earnest and tongue in cheek performance from Paul Reiser as the police boss. Even so, the plotting here is random and whimsical in the extreme. War On Everyone is more a series of comic sketches than it is a coherent movie.

 

The Guv’nor (15)

★★☆☆☆

Dir: Paul Van Carter, 85 mins, featuring: Lenny McLean, Jamie McLean, Martin Askew, Guy Ritchie, Jason Flemyng, Roy Shaw

Lenny McLean, who died in 1998, was the formidable bare-knuckle boxer and West End bouncer who, late in his life, achieved celebrity. His autobiography was a best-seller and he had a role in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. This documentary looks at Lenny’s story from the perspective of his son, Jamie McLean, who was devoted to him. (The film’s producers are also making a dramatised feature about Lenny starring Josh Helman.)

The Guv’nor is very uneven and looks as if it was made quickly and cheaply, but it offers a perspective on Lenny that goes beyond the caricature of the lovable East End “hard man”. Lenny was brutally abused as a kid by his stepfather. He suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder. At times, the interviewees romanticise him shamelessly, talking of him as a devoted, good humoured family man and waxing nostalgic about the sense of community in the old East End.

He once bit off a man’s nose in a fight. By his own admission, he liked hitting people. The footage we see of his battles with Roy “Pretty Boy” Shaw is brutal in the extreme. Raking through Lenny’s past, though, Jamie, who has his own issues with violence, discovers aspects of his father’s life that can’t help but disturb him. Some of Lenny’s closest relatives refuse to talk on camera about him for reasons that aren’t disclosed. There are hints that he was a far darker and more troubled figure than his son suspected.

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