Special Feature: The case of Joe Eszterhas vs. Mel Gibson

A film was released last week that wasn’t projected at any cinema. There was no poster, nor advertising campaign, although there have been some trailer teasers available on the internet. It starred Mel Gibson in a role madder than Mad Max or Martin Riggs, and was scripted by screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, which exposed anti-Semitism (like Music Box [1989]), was full of sleazy misogyny (like Basic Instinct [1992])  and might well hinge on a piece of last minute physical evidence (like Jagged Edge [1985]).

The facts are these. Eszterhas wrote Gibson a letter which was later leaked on US website The Wrap. The nine-page missive was written in response to Warner Bros.’ decision not to proceed with the shooting of Eszterhas’ script for a film about the Jewish leader, Judah Maccabee. Originally, announced as a ‘Jewish Braveheart‘, Eszterhas states the film was merely a cynical attempt on Gibson’s part to distract from allegations of anti-Semitism following the now notorious DUI arrest (28 July, 2006), in which the actor claimed Jews were responsible for “all the wars in the world”.

In his letter, Eszterhas reaffirms the accusation of Gibson’s anti-Semitism, stating the reason the star refused to make the Maccabee story is because: “you hate Jews”. To support this accusation, Eszterhas describes Gibson using anti-Semitic language, stating the Holocaust was “mostly bullshit” and insisting there were rituals for sacrificing Christian babies in the Torah. He also attacked John Lennon and (bizarrely) Walter Cronkite, and even had Eszterhas sleeping with a golf club by his bed lest Gibson break down the door.

Australia’s most famous New York-born actor responded immediately in a letter of his own (published online by Deadline), denying much, although admitting there had been an argument for which he had scrawled an apology. Gibson argued that Eszterhas submitted a shoddy (and late) script and suggested the rancour was due to wounded pique rather than his own behaviour. In what was rapidly turning into a mangled car crash of bad publicity, Eszterhas responded that he didn’t appreciate being called a liar (Gibson had referred to “fabrications”) and that there was taped evidence backing up his own version of events.

Regardless of the ultimate fallout (our money is on a celebrity scrap involving socks of manure and napalm), a pair of painful ironies are already readily apparent. The first is that the nine-page letter represents the highpoint of Joe Eszterhas’ literary career: The Great Gatsby as written by Brett Easton Ellis, full of scenes of bitterness and degradation, replete with an unreliable narrator. In addition, we’re also left with a further-degraded Gibson, a man who once dared to step into a Brando role (The Bounty [1986]), and successfully made the leap from blockbuster actor to Oscar-winning director (in your face Clooney).

Sadly, Gibson now seems destined to be remembered as an (allegedly) bellowing mad man who (allegedly) confides in fifteen year old boys about his preferred method of killing his ex-wife (her lawyers are considering the claims), and who sits in his various mansions (allegedly) watching his own films and raging about looking so old. The film we genuinely want to see come out of this all is undoubtedly Mel: The Movie.

John Bleasdale