The awards season has unofficially begun with the nominations of The Critics’ Choice Awards committee, and a familiar name has returned to the list. It has been a long hiatus for Mel Gibson, the embattled actor and director who was virtually banned from Hollywood after his violent rants more than a decade ago. He now has a new movie, that is garnering rave reviews, a new 26-year-old girlfriend, and baby number nine putting him back in the headlines.
‘Hacksaw Ridge’, the acclaimed World War II action drama earned seven nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Gibson) and Best Actor (Andrew Garfield). It’s a strong showing for this Lionsgate film. But does all of this matter for Gibson’s return to the spotlight?
If this awards success continues it will only fuel the “Mel Gibson comeback” narrative, at least as a director. The film is an unquestionably well-made hybrid of old-school melodrama and horrific wartime carnage, and despite one odd scene, it delivers big time. But as a leading actor and as a movie star, he’ll never really “come back.” No, it’s not because it will be easier to accept Gibson behind the camera than as a matinee idol, but rather how the industry changed over the last 12 years.
This isn’t necessarily about whether audiences can, will, or should forgive Gibson for his many transgressions. Let’s assume the best-case-scenario for the actor/director and imagine a timeline where everyone just shrugs off his drunken anti-Semitic slurs from 2006, and the recording of Gibson throwing out racist and misogynistic slurs at his then-girlfriend in 2010. Whether we should, and that’s a debate for another day involving the usual complaints about gender and racial inequities in Hollywood, let’s assume that we do just give Gibson a “clean slate.” In what kind of movies would he star?
Mel Gibson was a movie star in an age where an A-list actor could get audiences to come out to theaters for an original movie that looked appealing mostly because that actor was on the poster. With a few exceptions like comedy stars Kevin Hart and Melissa McCarthy, or “last of his kind” icons like Leonardo DiCaprio, we don’t have that anymore. It’s not like most of Gibson’s peers, think Harrison Ford, Kevin Costner, or Nicolas Cage, can still pull in crowds outside of particular franchises. Things have changed, and Gibson may be a victim of the times.