The Good, The Bad and The Badass: Mel Gibson
It think it's fair to say that Mel Gibson's become a polarizing figure in the last half-decade or so. While he certainly did some inappropriate things, the Hollywood backlash against one of their all-time most popular stars has been hypocritical at best. He's virtually become persona non grata, but Gibson himself has been hard at work, and with an action film in the can, and a big-budget directorial project set to film, the time just might be right for Gibson to reemerge.
Whatever the case, it can't be denied that Gibson's made his share of great films. From MAD MAX, which he starred in at the tender age of twenty-one (I couldn't imagine any other kid that age leading an action film) through THE ROAD WARRIOR and his eventual American breakthrough with LETHAL WEAPON to his Oscar-win for BRAVEHEART, he was one of the greats. He always delivered and no matter what, his films will stand the test of time.
On a personal note, it's been very hard for me to accept Gibson's fall from grace as his movies – specifically the LETHAL WEAPON saga – were very important to me when I was growing up. I watched them so much my parents used to joke that Riggs and Murtagh were my buddies, and I wore out all my VHS tapes (of the first three anyways). Heck, I even really liked his lesser vehicles like TEQUILA SUNRISE, AIR AMERICA and FOREVER YOUNG. It'll be good to see him (hopefully) regain the affection of his fans.
While I have a soft spot for the first two LETHAL WEAPON films, and am a huge ROAD WARRIOR devotee, it can't be denied BRAVEHEART will be the movie Gibson will be remembered for. It's still one of my favorites, being a perfect mix of historical drama, action-adventure and romance. The three hour running time whizzes by and if any modern Hollywood films are worthy of being compared to a classic like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, this is the one. It just never gets old and even Gibson's hardcore critics have to admit, it's a powerful piece of work.
One Mel Gibson movie I never really found has gotten its due is THE BOUNTY. A large-scale eighties updating of the MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY story, the film goes against type portraying mutineer Fletcher Christian (played by Gibson as a bit of a fool) as conflicted villain, while Anthony Hopkins makes a sympathetic Captain Bligh (who's typically demonized). It has a great score by Vangelis, gorgeous location photography and a crazy cast of young stars, including Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson. It's ripe for rediscovery.
My next choice – BIRD ON A WIRE – comes with an asterisk. While it's a fun little romantic-comedy-thriller, John Badham's film really only becomes exceptionally good in the climax. Here, the formerly charming comedy turns into a full-on Mel Gibson action film. The ponytail he rocks for most of the movie is gone, replaced by his Riggs hair, as he takes on the baddies in a huge indoor zoo, while a kick-ass early Hans Zimmer score rocks the soundtrack. It goes a little too far in that Gibson's regular Joe becomes a wisecracking Riggs' type hero, shrugging off multiple gunshot wounds and dispatching villains like a pro. But it's a great scene.
While THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST defied Gibson's critics and made a mint at the box office, his troubles can really be traced back to this controversial project. While artistically a triumph, this movie has always struck me as too unsettling and violent, with the religious subject matter a rather convenient excuse for some of the most graphic acts of sadism I've ever seen on the screen. I think Martin Scorsese's THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST is far superior, although I'm sure many Christians will disagree.
For some reason, I blanked on BRAVEHEART when I pitched this to my editor Paul Shirey, suggesting the coke deal in LETHAL WEAPON was his best scene. I was quickly corrected by Paul, who suggested that Gibson's big speech in BRAVEHEART can't be beat, and he's absolutely right.
Gibson's making a big push for a comeback this year. First, he's got BLOOD FATHER – an actioner – in the can. Next, he's directing Andrew Garfield in HACKSAW RIDGE. Fingers crossed both turn out to be worthy vehicles for his still considerable talent.