Bless Me Father
May 23, 2023
‘Bless Me Father’ is a confusing dichotomy of a film, blending ideas together which should create a thoughtful, meditative film, yet instead it is far, far too convoluted. For a slight ninety minute runtime, the film tries to tackle too many themes, and none of them in any much depth, getting in the way of its story, which is an interesting idea on paper.
Gangster films are interwoven with religion. That’s an unavoidable fact. ‘Bless Me Father’, as the title would suggest, follows this tradition, but only for tradition’s sake. There’s no sense of that spirituality imbued into the story, and it ultimately features just to remind you of better films to spend your time watching. It’s clear whom writer-director Gianni McLaughlin is most heavily influenced by, of course, the legendary Martin Scorsese. However, where Scorsese infuses his films with his own religious belief, shaping the stories which he tells, McLaughlin fails to understand that his own use of spirituality is weightless because it lacks gravitas, or any sense of actual belief.
The film opens to the sound of bells, which toll over shoddily shot handheld footage from inside a car. We then see a slightly bedraggled man, Vinny (Gianni McLaughlin) walk into church looking in serious need of some spiritual aid. Luckily that’s what you tend to get in a church and a priest, Father Joe (Joseph McLaughlin) offers him the chance to give confession, and thus begins Vinny’s story. All this is filmed with fervour and patience that suggests a profound religious message delicately interwoven throughout. Regrettably, that illusion soon falls apart.
As we witness the descent of Vinny from juvenile delinquent to fully fledged gangster we are reminded of better films dealing with the same subject, primarily the eternal gangster film ‘Goodfellas’. This is a subject that has been done before, over and over again, but treading on such hallowed ground wouldn’t be a problem - there’s a reason its been overdone (when it works, it really works) - if it wasn’t done here with such abject quality and attention to story.
We see Vinny rise to something of prominence amongst his fellow Italian-American gangsters, even meeting the Don (Paris Branda), as he sacrifices his relationships with those around him in order to pursue a life of crime, drugs and money. The issue, and its one which is handled bizarrely, is that the Don killed Vinny’s father (Federico Lupo), as we see in a flashback. The thing is, though Vinny knows this, and it effects him when he first meets the Don, it is then just left behind as a plot point until right at the very end, when suddenly it becomes the centre of the entire plot, despite having literally no bearing on it throughout.
Added to the strange direction of the story is McLaughlin’s disappointing directing, which wouldn’t be such an issue were it not for the finesse offered early on. Instead he soon indulges himself with too many cuts, too many shots which add nothing dramatically, and, far too many gratuitous shots of strippers twerking. You can present the gangster lifestyle as idealised without objectifying women to the point at which no women that appears in the film is anything more than a sex object.
‘Bless Me Father’ lacks the punch which films of this nature need to separate themselves from the rest. Any early promise quickly subsides into just another sleazy gangster film by another wannabe Scorsese. You can’t replicate Scorsese, and it’s time people started realising that.