In a long and storied career, Mel Gibson has been an integral part of movies since he and George Miller worked together on 1979’s Mad Max. Gibson became an out-and-out star and arguably became an A-List celebrity. That is until he became a much more controversial figure in the mid-2000s with a turbulent private life made very public by news media. It was an unfortunate and difficult time for Gibson, but recently he has made a bit of a resurgence in movies and has a new movie, Blood Father, and it is receiving very positive reviews from audiences and critics.
Since we here at Reel World Theology are all about grace for the sinner, it would largely not make sense for us to avoid talking about Mel Gibson, even though he has made past personal choices we cannot condone. Also, if Robert Downey Jr. can show him grace–remember Downey Jr. was a persona non grata in Hollywood a handful of years before Gibson–can’t we, as well? With this spirit in mind, we want to use Gibson’s newest movie as an opportunity to talk about some of his best movies in which Gibson has played a major role. We’ll start with possibly a controversial pick at #5, but it is clearly a much better movie than people more popularly give it credit for.
Mel Gibson and M. Night Shyamalan: two figures people love to hate in 2016 who were beloved in the early 2000s. While Signs does have some pretty glaring holes and a deus ex machina rendering much of the previous events in the movie somewhat trite, Gibson and Phoenix are fabulous in Shyamalan’s incredibly successful 2002 movie. The king of apprehension and the movie twist, Shyamalan takes a simple premise like an alien invasion and turns it into something artistically gorgeous and nervously thrilling. There is a Hitchcock-like nature to his movies that build anticipation and fear through subtle moments, emotion, and neck-breaking twists. While the writing and story are a little hackneyed, something he is mercilessly drilled for now by gleeful trolls, Gibson and Pheonix both manage to wrestle their characters out of cliches and give depth and pathos to what might otherwise be cookie cutter portrayals. You may be able to tear down some of Shyamalan’s other movies and Gibson’s personal life, but you cannot deny the lasting appeal and fun of Signs.
They don’t make action movies quite like this anymore, do they? There is a tough, street-level mentality to this movie lacking in most modern action movies. With the rare exception, most action movies are high-flying, CGI-filled craziness and defies all normal physics and limitations. Not so with Richard Donner’s 1987 Lethal Weapon movie, which stars Gibson as the maverick police officer with a death wish, Martin Riggs. Teamed up with Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), Riggs and Murtaugh exemplify a different era of how police were viewed and how movies portrayed them. Good guys through and through, Riggs and Murtaugh fight the bad guys for the sake of those who can’t, and are all about achieving justice, even if it means breaking the rules and bending their own personal beliefs. They do so with a grittiness and sense of purpose long since vanished from modern crime movies. There are no politics, no back-stabbing, no corrupt police chiefs. It’s straight up bad guys versus good cops and filled with compelling action and real-life shooting, punching, and crazy driving. A fantastic action movie with a blistering final twenty minutes. Gibson brings the charm and action, Glover brings the veteran, long-in-the-tooth attitude, but proves by the end you can teach an old dog new tricks. Love this movie and worthy of it being among Gibson’s best movies.
3) The Beaver
In a recent conversation with the lovely members of the Reel World Theology Facebook Discussion Group, I was tipped off to this movie. It flew under the radar for a lot of people, but after getting a chance to see it I can see why this might be Gibson’s best recent work and one of his best performances ever. Playing a severely depressed man who needs a beaver hand puppet to communicate and to rebuild his broken life, Gibson puts on a master class. While the story is a little thin and the motivations are mostly lacking, his performance and Jodi Foster’s direction are superb. Some have complained the movie’s message regarding depression and family are cliche, and others say it’s not funny enough to be taken seriously, but I felt the mood was apt and the drama was sincere. The story is especially resonant for those who have struggled with depression or watched loved ones struggle. Also, the father-son relationship between Gibson and Anton Yelchin is a fabulous B-plot to this movie and had me crying at the end. If you haven’t seen this movie, you need to see it.
A classic film everyone is supposed to like, but, like we discussed with Signs, has come under fire as of late with retrospective viewers. Granted, some of their criticisms of a lack of female agency are warranted, the movie is almost a rite of passage with my generation of males. I have seen this movie so many times and it has so much to offer in terms of how masculinity has been viewed historically, but also speaks to loyalty, duty, patriotism, and sacrifice. The counter-critics would say, while it is a rite of passage and a glorious performance from Gibson, it is a hyper-violent, inaccurate historical narrative of the historical character, William Wallace, and in this day in age, we love to nitpick movies until they are bleached bones in a desert inhabited by internet trolls.
However, not a single person should care about any of that. This movie is spectacular. A true war epic in the vein of Last of the Mohicans and a cinematic classic, it will forever remain as Gibson’s crowning achievement in Hollywood and long remembered for its quotable lines, gruesome battles, and heart-rending love story. While there are plenty of caveats to go along with this movie, anyone who says this movie sucks needs to stop because they are wrong.
This movie moves ahead of Braveheart on two merits. One, George Miller. Two, it made Mad Max: Fury Road possible.
A Hollywood version of Miller’s original movie, it is a slight remake but also builds on Miller’s dystopian future. His vision is exquisite and masterful but brutal and frightening. Miller commands a distinct presence on-screen which makes the action in the movie unparalleled and Gibson inhabits the quiet, brooding Max with controlled finesse. Every aspect of this movie screams blockbuster, but Miller loads it up with intensity and an intentional path. Much the same way his vision would explode to reinvigorate action movies in 2015 with Fury Road, twenty-five years earlier he had created something distinct and no one else could quite reproduce. Miller is a one-of-a-kind director and Gibson owes him and Gibson has admitted just that in the past, for his career as an action star. Thanks, George, for making Gibson a star and making this list possible.