We've heard about actors or filmmakers trying to do some course correction to rejuvenate or repair their ailing career, but this is ridiculous. Deadline is reporting that Mel Gibson has teamed up with Joe Eszterhas to produce and potentially direct a script about revolutionary Jewish historical figure Judah Maccabee, to be produced under his Icon shingle and released by Warner Bros. Huh?
The story of Maccabee does fit within the Gibson wheelhouse, with its wide historical scope, morally outraged warrior protagonist and bloody battle sequences. Maccabee led a Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrian armies that conquered Judea in the second century B.C. The sticking point for most, though, will be the hero's religion, especially after Gibson the filmmaker was lambasted for the palpable anti-Semitism in "The Passion of the Christ," not to mention his drunk rants which included such memorable gems as "Fucking Jews… The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." The question remains: is Gibson trying to get back in the game or just recover some of the luster from his tarnished image?
That's hard to say. The project is being written by Joe Eszterhas, at one point the highest paid screenwriter in the country thanks to his jazzy erotic thrillers like "Basic Instinct" and "Jade," who himself was a Hungarian survivor of World War II and whose script for 1989's "Music Box" dealt with the Hungarian experience during the war. (There are some beautifully written, expertly moving passages in his highly recommendable 2004 memoir "Hollywood Animal" about his own experiences of the war as a child.)
Eszterhas seems to be on the rebound too – music video auteur Hype Williams recently signed on to direct his erotic thriller "Lust." We've got to ask, though, if you're looking to make inroads in your return to Hollywood, is hitching your wagon to Mel Gibson really the best idea?
Beyond the whole anti-Semitic thing, there are the phone calls that Mel Gibson placed to his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva in which he threatened to punch Oksana in the face while she held their baby (another classic Gibson zinger: "I'll put you in the fucking rose garden, you cunt") and unleashed casual racial epitaphs. The series of recordings, one more shockingly violent and explicit than the next, temporarily derailed the release of Jodie Foster's domestic drama "The Beaver" and when the movie finally did come out, the marketing was underplayed and people barely showed up. (Also – who would want to work with him on this thing? Several cast members of "The Hangover Part II" staged a mini-revolt when they learned that Gibson was tapped for a cameo.)
Then there was Gibson's Viking movie, to be written by William Monahan, who worked with Gibson on the woeful revenge movie "Edge of Darkness" and won an Oscar for "The Departed," and starring Leonardo DiCpario. In keeping with Gibson's love of historically accurate dialects, the movie would have had dialogue only spoken in Norse. It was supposed to film sometime in 2010, with Gibson claiming that it would be the last movie that he would direct, but Gibson's personal crises derailed production, and the whole thing seemed to vanish into the Norwegian mist.
So is this new Jewish historical epic a continuation of what he wanted to accomplish with the Viking movie (which would have been fucking awesome), an attempt to win back the hearts and minds of Hollywood (and audiences nationwide), or just a movie that he's looking forward to directing, working from a killer script by one of the industry's most beloved and profitable screenwriters? The only one who can answer that question is Gibson, and although he seems to be a pretty disagreeable human being, he's an undeniably talented filmmaker – while he may have won kudos for his stately "Braveheart," we're partial to his breathlessly thrilling "Apocalypto," surely one of the weirdest movies ever released by a major studio. If he can recapture some of that crazy jungle magic, even if it is an attempt to redeem himself professionally, we're in. Otherwise, we're just confused. And some folks are just plain outraged as less than 24 hours have passed since the news hit the web and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League, is already protesting the decision to have Gibson involved in the project saying, "Casting him as a director or perhaps as the star of 'Judah Maccabee' is like casting Madoff to be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission."
Let's hope Gibson stays off the sauce and doesn't start drunk dialing anybody...