The standing ovation lasted a full ten minutes — a rare achievement for any film receiving its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
Audience members said the cast and crew of World War II movie, Hacksaw Ridge, were ‘overwhelmed’ as they soaked up the plaudits earlier this year. And none more so, one can be certain, than its director, Mel Gibson.
It seemed a return to his glory days as Hollywood’s most bankable name as he walked out of the Sala Grande theatre to find screaming fans waiting not for the film’s stars, Andrew Garfield and Vince Vaughn, but for him. In honour of his performance as Celtic warrior William Wallace in Braveheart, they had even painted their faces blue.
Most A-listers do their best to hide the signs of age, but 60-year-old Gibson, star of Mad Max, Lethal Weapon and The Patriot, sports a bushy white beard. It makes him look wiser — which may be the intention.
For Gibson is engaged in one of the most delicate comebacks in Tinseltown history. After a decade in the wilderness — in which the Hollywood pariah didn’t direct a single film and appeared in just a handful — he looks to have finally shrugged off an ugly past of anti-Semitic and racist outbursts, and incidents of domestic violence that few felt could be excused by Gibson’s rampant alcoholism.
Hacksaw Ridge marks his return as director for the first time since working on the 2006 Mayan action adventure Apocalypto.
And it looks set to be a triumphant comeback — it has already been nominated for two Golden Globes, one for best film (drama) and one for Gibson in the best director category.
But he’s not just returning behind the camera. October saw the UK release of Blood Father, an action thriller starring Gibson playing to his strengths as a recovering alcoholic plagued by a furious temper.
Some critics were struck by how much his addiction problems have aged him, noting the deep lines marking those matinee idol features.
Earlier this year, Gibson was in Dublin making his next feature film, The Professor And The Madman, with fellow badboy Sean Penn, playing the creators of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Gibson took with him his 26-year-old girlfriend, Rosalind Ross, a former champion equestrian. They are understood to have met two years ago after Ms Ross, an aspiring writer, applied for a job at his film production company. Despite being younger than nearly all his offspring, she is pregnant with his ninth child.
As they strolled around town he smiled genially for photographers — a far cry from August last year when a female photographer claims he verbally abused her, pushed her and spat in her face when she tried to snap the couple. Gibson robustly denies the claims and his U.S. publicist called the story ‘a complete fabrication’.
It also emerged that Gibson is in talks to star as a grandfather spy in an action-adventure film called Every Other Weekend.
However, it’s his belated return to directing — for which he’s previously won two Oscars, Best Picture and Best Director, for 1995’s Braveheart — that is more significant.
Hacksaw Ridge is based on a true story about Desmond Doss (played by Spiderman star Garfield), a Seventh Day Adventist and pacifist who became the first conscientious objector in U.S. history to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour after heroically saving 75 men during the bloody campaign to take Okinawa from the Japanese.
The film (which was released in the U.S. in November and is awaiting its UK opening next year) is already being tipped as an Oscars contender, following its Golden Globes success.
Critics wonder whether Gibson, an ultra-conservative Roman Catholic in ultra-atheist Hollywood, wanted to draw comparisons with his own life by making the film’s hero an idealistic loner persecuted for his religious beliefs.
Garfield — who, helpfully for Gibson, is Jewish — spoke warmly of him in Venice, describing him at a press conference as ‘like a good dad on set’ with a ‘wonderful, nurturing instinct’.
But Gibson seemed at pains to correct any impression that he takes the sudden revival of his career for granted. Asked to describe his relationship with Hollywood, he simply said: ‘Survival’. It sounded as bleak as one of his films.
However, as Hollywood insiders told me this week, Gibson may be overstating the case.
‘I know of some Jewish people at some studios who say they will never work with Mel again, period,’ an executive at a major independent production company said.
‘But I think they’re a minority. It’s been ten years since all this started and at some point you have to forgive and forget.
‘It’s always got to be about the money. He’s certainly had some flops, but the man’s got talent — on both sides of the camera.’
Another well-placed Tinseltown insider said: ‘After what he said about Jews, I remember Ari Emanuel [Hollywood’s most powerful talent agent] calling on Hollywood to ‘shun’ Mel even if it hurt their bottom line. I thought: ‘Good luck with that.’
‘Someone as big as Gibson had to come back sometime.’
So are we really witnessing the Second Coming of Mad Mel? He certainly believes so, insisting somewhat unconvincingly to Deadline, a Hollywood news website, that his decade-long disappearing act had been a deliberate decision to keep a ‘low profile’ rather than enforced on him by an outraged film world.
He explained: ‘I’ve done a lot of work on myself these past ten years. I didn’t want just to do the celebrity rehab thing for two weeks, declare myself cured and then screw up again.
‘I think the best way somebody can show they’re sorry is to fix themselves.’
A Gibson comeback didn’t seem likely back in July 2006 when he was arrested on a Los Angeles highway on suspicion of drunk driving after police caught him speeding.
According to the traffic officer, when he refused to let Gibson drive home, the star exploded: ‘****ing Jews . . . the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?’
Gibson, who started drinking at 13, went into rehab and met Jewish leaders to help him ‘discern the appropriate path for healing’. He apologised, saying his comments had been the ‘stupid rambling of a drunkard’.
And yet, claimed critics, that was hardly the whole story.
Two years earlier, Gibson had made The Passion Of The Christ, which an alliance of rabbis complained had promoted anti-Semitic stereotypes and portrayed a Jewish mob as being ultimately responsible for the crucifixion. And, said his accusers, the film’s slant was hardly an accident from a director who knew the Bible intimately.
Brought up to follow a deeply conservative strain of Catholicism, the American-born, Australian-raised star has been vocal about his ‘traditionalist’ faith.
In 2003, Gibson built at his own expense a 17-acre church compound, the Church of the Holy Family, on a hilltop overlooking Malibu, California. It’s so conservative that women who visit must cover their heads.
Some note that he inherited his beliefs from his father, Hutton Gibson, who has publicly supported various anti-Jewish conspiracy theories including Holocaust denial.
Gibson’s star had further to fall, however. In 2010, a leaked recording revealed him savagely railing at his then girlfriend, Russian pianist Oksana Grigorieva. Accusing her of wearing provocative clothing, he warned she only had herself to blame if she got ‘raped by a bunch of n*****s’.
Although Gibson claimed the tape had been edited and the incident was a one-off, he didn’t contest the charge of hitting Ms Grigorieva, the mother of his baby daughter, although he insisted he had simply ‘tapped’ her on the head.
Gibson’s three-year relationship with Grigorieva had followed the break-up in 2006 of his 26-year marriage to his wife Robyn, a fellow staunch Catholic with whom he has seven children. Sources said Gibson destroyed the marriage through his heavy drinking and his ‘bad, unpredictable temper’.
Robyn finally filed for divorce in 2009, shortly after pictures emerged of him embracing a young brunette — thought to have been Grigorieva — on a Costa Rican beach.
Civil rights activists called for a boycott of his films and Gibson’s production company was dropped by the ABC TV network, for which it had a planned mini-series about Dutch Jews during World War II.
A string of other projects never got off the ground either, including a Viking feature film which was to have starred Leonardo DiCaprio until he pulled out.
In 2012, a Hollywood screenwriter named Joe Eszterhas, whom Gibson had commissioned to write a script about the ancient Jewish freedom fighters known as the Maccabees only to turn it down, resurrected the charge that Gibson was indeed a virulent anti-Semite.
Eszterhas depicted the star as a deranged psychotic who owned more guns than crucifixes and who once furiously ejected a terrified priest he had invited for dinner because they had disagreed over Catholic doctrine. (Gibson dismissed most of the accusations as ‘utter fabrications’.)
It’s not to say Gibson doesn’t have his defenders. Some Hollywood insiders say every awful episode in his life can be explained by an alcoholism so severe that he admitted in 2004 he had contemplated suicide. Friends insist he has now been sober for years.
Actresses Jodie Foster and Whoopi Goldberg both publicly defended him, as did actors Gary Oldman and Robert Downey Jr, the latter having himself staged a major Hollywood comeback following his own addiction problems.
In May, another old friend, Shane Black, the writer of Lethal Weapon and director of Iron Man 3, said Gibson had ‘essentially been blacklisted’. He added: ‘If you’re drunk, you’re going to say nasty things.’
More recently, The Hollywood Reporter newspaper proclaimed Gibson is ‘no longer persona non grata’ in the industry as senior business figures went on record to support him.
‘I’ve known Mel for many years and his talents as a filmmaker are undeniable,’ said Sue Kroll, president of worldwide marketing and distribution at Warner Bros. ‘He is a gifted storyteller.’
While David Permut, a gay, Jewish producer of Hacksaw Ridge, said: ‘Mel has been misunderstood by people who may not know him, but nobody can take his talent away. Ultimately, I think time heals.’
But controversy continues to dog Gibson. Only days prior to the newspaper report, Glenn Beck, a Bible Belt commentator in the U.S., claimed the star was still complaining about Jews when they met at a Hacksaw Ridge screening.
Gibson earlier announced he is working on a sequel to The Passion Of The Christ, saying it will be called The Resurrection. Whether he can perform a similar miracle in sustaining his own Hollywood comeback will soon become clear.
SOURCE: Daily Mail – Tom Leonard