Mad Mel returns with a vengence

A Hollywood comeback is never easy, especially when most of Hollywood perceives you to be an anti-Semite with a drinking problem who recently left his wife of more than 25 years for a much younger woman who has just given birth.

Mel Gibson, a man once very near the top of the Hollywood hierarchy, is going to have a very difficult time gaining back the respect and acknowledgement of his peers and audiences, after all he has been through. But at least he is attempting to do so by going back to the basics that made him a household name.

The 54-year-old actor is once again embracing his mad-as-hell on-screen persona that initially made him famous by appearing in Edge of Darkness, his first leading role in eight years, opening today.

Gibson portrays a Boston police detective who, after his daughter is murdered, goes on a vicious and bloody quest for revenge that echoes the attitude of a few of his past performances.

Before Gibson ever made The Passion of the Christ or spewed offensive remarks toward Jews, he was simply known as Mad Max.

In 1979, the unknown Australian-American actor got his first big break by appearing in Mad Max as an emotionally driven madman, a role that fully expressed his raw talent.

In the movie, Gibson played a police officer in the Australian outback during a time when the principle ideas of law and order are just beginning to collapse and a grim, apocalyptic wasteland beginning to develop.  After Max’s family is brutally attacked by a biker gang, he loses his sense of morality and enacts his violent rage on the gang while at the same time becoming part of an engulfing wasteland.

The film was so successful in Australia and the United States that Gibson reprised the role in Mad Max 2, better known as The Road Warrior. This time, society has fully collapsed into desolation, and the sequel showcases Max as fully dissociated with humanity and propelled by violence.

Both of these films made Gibson a success, but it was his role in 1987’s Lethal Weapon and its first sequel, that made him a star. His portrayal of Martin Riggs, a L.A. detective with a death wish, illustrated the manic yet sensational character development that, as an actor, Gibson has long sought to perfect.

These films flawlessly feature Gibson’s power as an actor because they represent the general acceptance of amorality, which is what he personifies best on screen. This is where Gibson has always excelled, but it is his attempt to be seen as a regular guy that Hollywood and most of the world seems to be concerned with, an effort that will make his comeback difficult.

The real question that develops as a result is whether or not an actor should be judged by his films or by the events, both good and bad, that occur within his private life.

Gibson’s initial fame as an actor is being overshadowed by his presence as a celebrity, an area in which topics such as religious beliefs, legal troubles and problems with alcohol gain the most attention and are often deemed most important.

It is true that Gibson has expressed his religious beliefs quite feverishly with The Passion of the Christ — which certainly provoked debate regarding the presence of religion within the medium of film and how it is represented — but should his opinions overshadow his acting abilities?

Mel Gibson has made mistakes and behaved inappropriately but not as an actor; after all, he should be recognized by audiences as an actor, not a celebrity.

Gibson has paid for these mistakes and will continue to do so. The television show South Park has had a lot of fun with him, and Gibson’s alcoholism was the butt of the best joke at the Golden Globe awards, which he appropriately played along with.

But as people head out to see Gibson’s comeback film — though some refuse to acknowledge it as such — at least he is returning to form and finally reviving that mad-as-hell persona that he knows works so well.

In his new film, Gibson’s character is infuriated by rage that is translated into violent action, blatantly ignoring all sense of morality in order to find his daughter’s killer. By doing so, Gibson is reminding his audience that he can still portray the intensity he is known for — a very wise move on his part to return to a character that audiences actually want to see him embody.

With Edge of Darkness, Gibson seems to finally be expressing his talents as an actor, not as a celebrity. It seems as though Hollywood might be ready to have the old Mel Gibson back.