Recovering addict and one time Hollywood bad boy Robert Downey Jr. recently spoke at an awards function and asked the audience about forgiving Mel Gibson. This coming from an actor who knows a thing or two about being banished from the industry and having to work very hard to get back in, though Downey’s crimes were very different than Gibson’s. Downey was an addict, and when stoned did some very stupid things. Addiction is a very different form of social issue than racism, which is not as easily forgiven. There was a time when no isurance company would insure Dowmney on a film, leaving it to the producers, or Downey himself to pay the fee. He understands what it is to be on the outside looking in when you were once on the inside.
Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Gibson was once among the most bankable actors in Hollywood, commanding twenty million per film, with his pick of scripts and an easy transition to director when he chose to do so. He won the Academy Award, however surprisingly, for Braveheart (1995), which his co-star Brendan Gleason told me was “boys at play”. The film also won Best Picture, also something of a surprise within the industry, but the winner nonetheless. He would not direct for almost a decade, but when he did he decided to make the film outside the Hollywood studios, financing the movie to the tune of twenty five million dollars. Having no one to answer too, being his own boss, Gibson made The Passion of the Christ (2004) his way, in a dead language, with shocking and brutal violence, agreeing only to put in the subtitles that the distributors looking to release the film thought still to be the kiss of death. They were lucky he decided to use them at all, at one point he was not going to use subtitles at all, believing the film and the language stood on its own, and that everyone essentially knew the story anyway.
When Newmarket Films took on the film could thay have known the staggering box office success the film would achieve? REleased in the spring, a time reserved usually for films the studios do not know how to market, The Passion of the Christ (2004) became a blockbuster. reviews were divided, with many critics feeling the film was a masterpiece (such as myself) while others were bothered by the extreme violence. Religious groups either adored the picture or struggled with it, there was no in between, with some feeling the film was anti-Semetic. In fairness, I am not a Biblical scholar, but I saw nothing anti-Semetic within the film at all, and in fact it stuck close to the story passed down for more than two thousand years.
The Passion of the Christ (2004) made more than seven hundred million worldwide, most of which went to Gibson according to the deal that was struck, though Newmarket certainly made millions on the deal. Had the Academy ignored the film entirely there would have been howls of protest, so there were a a few technical nominations, one of which, Best Cinematography, the film should have won. Gibson’s direction was bold and assured, and he was deserving of being among the nominees for Best Director in 2004, both by the Academy and the Directors Guild of America. It did not happen of course, but it should have.
With more money than his childrens’ childrens’ children will ever spend, one would think Mel Gibson would be liberated from Hollywood, a happy man, never have to go through the studio process again and could be free to make the films he wanted to make. He would be happy, in charge of his life…right? Nope. He bottomed out. Left his wife of many years, fell off the wagon and began drinking heavily, and becoming a punchline to many jokes in Hollywood and late night TV. He was arrested, made some terrible racial slurs, and a very loud and private argument with his ex-girlfriend was made public, all of which made Gibson look very foolish. Worst of all for his career were the comments he made that were believed to be anti-Semetic, because it opened up an old wound in which many people began coming forward offering up stories of Gibson’s racial issues from years before. His beliefs about the Holocaust came out as did his religious beliefs (nobody’s business) and suddenly Gibson was the man no one wanted to know, the fellow no one wanted to be in business with. Though he made Apocalypto (2006), a dazzling Mayan adventure story, he became persona non grata.
Let’s face it and be real here…he should not have done what he has done and should not have said what he said. His comments were cruel and stupid and he did nothing but harm to his own reputation. Beyond that, beyond what we think, what do his children think of him?? The one thing I hope I offer my kids, the hope of all fathers I should think, is the chance to be proud of my actions everyday and never have to worry I am going to land in trouble or worse.
Being famous does not give one a free pass for behaving like an ass.
Being famous is not an excuse for bad behaviour.
Look at Paul Newman, or Clint Eastwood or Tom Hanks, for the most part models of good behavior. I remember reading about hockey star Wayne Gretzky, shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, being invited to the Playboy Mansion and knowing, intuitively he could not go because if he was seen there, if it was reported he was there, his image would be tarnished, and Gretzky knew the sort of role model he was. Gibson is not a stupid man, but his actions have been stupid. It might be a long time before Hollywood forgives him, and despite high powered friends such as Downey Jr. and Jodie Foster he may have to suffer his lumps and wait it out.
Forgiving Downey Jr. for addiction and terrible choices is one matter, forgiving a man for horrific choices, anti-Semetism and what appears to be a dark nature to his character is something quite different. There was a deliberate cruellty to his taped outburst to his girlfriend, and a sense of entitlement to his comments made to the police. It left people thinking, “who does this guy think he is?” His comments left people asking themselves why they should be quiet about previous comments he had made, why should they cover for the movie star??
Should this impact his work in movies? Whether it should or not means nothing because it will. Gibson gives an Oscar caliber performance in The Beaver (2011), and had he not made those stupid remarks or been charged or been in trouble of any kind he might be polishing his mantle waiting for that Best Actor Oscar to go along with his Oscar for Best Director. It’s a brave performance that could have gone horribly wrong but never does, because the actor is in such firm control of the character and the director, Jodie Foster never missteps. Think about it for a minute…the man is going to go through a film with a beaver puppet on his hand, give voice to the thing, and convince us that said beaver is taking over his mind and life. That he succeeds is a wonder to behold because though he has always been a good actor, there was never anything in his work to suggest this level of skill. Years ago Anthony Hopkins portrayed a ventroloquist slowly losing his mind and allowing his puppet to take over his mind. Eventually the puppet convinces the poor sap to commit murder. The film was Magic (1978) and there was much support for an Oscar nod for Hopkins that never came. Gibson’s work is at least as powerful as that, but sadly will be thought of as a great performance the Academy missed. The reasons, however unfair are understandable. He screwed up in a big way, and though Hollywood is forgiving, there are some lines you do not cross, and they are the very lines Gibson leaped over.
He gave the performance of his career in The Beaver (2011), maybe the performance of the year, but it is a performance that will not be celebrated or rewarded. He blew it. Man did he blow it. This might be behaviour no one can forgive. Still they forgave Roman Polanksi for what he did, raping a minor back in the seventies and then fleeing the US, by honoring him with an Oscar as Best Director, so who knows, Mel may one day be welcomed back with open arms.
Not just yet though.