There's a press release that keeps being sent to me. Despite my lack of interest, whoever is representing the film seems very convinced that I should get this press release. It's for a film called BLOOD FATHER. The tagline is "A father makes his own justice". You can probably guess what it's about without me having to tell you anything else. Suffice to say, it's one of the many, many "outsider dad with a heart of gold and a thirst for vengeance" films that have cropped up since Liam Neeson's Taken franchise. I am not surprised that Blood Father exists. What I am surprised by is that Mel Gibson is the star of it.
Mel Gibson. The violently anti-Semitic former Hollywood star who was reported to have both verbally and physically abusing his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva. In 2010, it was alleged that Gibson attacked her while she was holding their baby daughter, Lucia, and then claimed that she "deserved it". (In 2014, Gibson succesfully campaigned to have his battery charge stricken from his criminal record and won.)
You remember this, though. It was a rare case of a famous man's behaviour being so vilely out of control that his publicists couldn't keep up with it. Damage control was useless: as soon as one fire was put out, another burst of flames would come from elsewhere. If he wasn't being physically violent, he was being verbally abusive. If he wasn't attacking black people, he was blaming Jewish people for the world's problems.
It was a rare case of a famous man's behaviour being so vilely out of control that his publicists couldn't keep up with it
And so, the Mel Gibson fame engine came to a screeching halt. The former movie star became virtually unemployable. He made The Beaver with Jodie Foster in 2011 – a respectable, off beat indie drama – but then fizzled into obscurity. A few B-movies followed, but for the most part, it had seemed that Hollwood was ready to turn its back on the star whose films had dominated the 1980's and 90's.
So why now? Why does the man we heard tell the mother of his child that he was going to "burn the f**king house down... but you will blow me first” get a second pop at Hollywood? Because Blood Father isn't just a lonely man's attempt at a second-rate action movie: it's part of a larger campaign. Gibson has stepped behind the camera once again, as the director for the critically well-received Hacksaw Ridge. He's currently in Ireland filming The Professor and the Madman with Sean Penn.
There are two approaches you can have to a story like this, and this morning, I’m wrestling with both of them.
On the one hand: I believe that people with serious mental health disorders and addiction problems can often say and do things that they not only regret, but do not personally identify with in any way. Gibson has admitted that he is not only an alcoholic, but also suffers from severe bipolar disorder. I believe that people who suffer from these disorders need professional help, not scorn. A friend of mine, whose father is mentally ill, once told me that he didn’t hold any of his dad’s violent behaviour against him because “I have to live with the memory, but he has to live with himself.”
And in a way, the same is true of Mel Gibson: he has periodically apologised and voiced regret for his behaviour. David Permut, a producer on Hacksaw Ridge, said he had major reservations about starting a project with Gibson. "Believe me, there were conversations I had with people who were questioning me about going down the path with Mel," said Permut, who, it’s worth mentioning, is both gay and Jewish. “But he's not the person some people interpret him to be on the surface. Ask anyone involved with this film — above the line, below the line — they all revered him.”
He's not the person some people interpret him to be on the surface. Ask anyone involved with this film — above the line, below the line — they all revered him
So that's one side. But then there’s the other. Mel Gibson may indeed be both an addict and mentally unwell, and it’s completely possible that he has spent the last half-decade seeking the help he needs. It is entirely possible that he is a reformed man, who is forced to confront, daily, the memories of how he has behaved. But. But there is no denying that Gibson is the product of a system that is built to either ignore or reward the despotic behaviour of its male stars. Tom Cruise is the public face of Scientology, but, hey, Tom, do you want to be in Tropic Thunder? Johnny Depp threw a mobile phone at his wife, but she’s probably a gold digger anyway. Russell Crowe once off bit a piece of someone’s cheek and spat it back out at them, but he’s just a big sexy tough guy, isn’t he? Just a bit of a lad, like.
And that’s what it comes down to. It’s possible that if Mel Gibson were a one-in-a-million story, it would be easier to see him as a reformed victim of his own illness. But Mel Gibson isn’t the exception. He’s part of a long, sad legacy of famous men for whom the laws of the universe bend in order to suit their behaviour. He’s not an abusive husband, he’s mentally ill. He doesn’t belong in prison, he belongs on the screen. He’s someone children should look up to. He’s someone men want to be. He’s someone women want to be with.
I started this piece sure that Mel Gibson didn’t deserve a second chance at success, and ended it more confused then where I began. I don’t know if Mel Gibson should be allowed earn a living. I don’t know how genuine his remorse is. But I do know that when it comes to Hollywood men, blaming the player is useless unless you look at the game.