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Mel Gibson -The Action Hero.

April 13, 2007

Mel Gibson from Mad Max

From Mad Max 2

When Mad Max was released not many gave it a ghost of chance. It was an independently produced movie, on a shoestring budget of $300,000 AuD , and Mel Gibson was paid only $15,000 . But the movie took a massive 100 million $ in revenues, and till the Blair Witch Project , it remained as the movie with highest cost to profit ratio. More than in US, the movie was a huge hit all over the world, especially in India. What made this movie such a big hit, and achieve cult status with it’s own fan following?
Well I remember I was all of 13 years old, when I saw this movie. I was motivated to go, following most of my classmates going totally enthusiastic over this. And one thing was the stunt sequences, which in one word were just awesome. The bike stunts, the car chase sequences were just too good, and audiences were hooked on to it. As the cop, who takes revenge on a gang of bikers, who have killed his best friend, and his wife, Mel was just excellent. But more than the stunt sequences, it was the emotional factor, that wowed audiences all over the world. Mel’s relationship with his friend, his wanting to get away and just be with his wife and kid, and finally, when he breaks down on seeing his wife’s body, all had that strong emotional feel. And that actually made this movie a huge success.Somehow the family seems to be a recurrent theme of most of Mel’s movies.

Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart

Mel Gibson from The Patriot

In Braveheart , he attacks the British, after his newly wedded wife is killed, in the Patriot , he is the patriarch of a huge family, who joins the American revolution only after his son is killed by British troops.

Ransom

Scene from Apocalypto directed by Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson along with Joaquin Phoenix in Signs

In Apocalypto , again the theme is that of a man, trying to go back to his wife and son. Again in Ransom , he plays the millionaire, who would do anything to get his kidnapped son back. In Signs , he plays an ex preacher, who has lost faith, after the death of his wife. He is forced to rethink his beliefs, when his family is threatened again.

When it comes to action, Mel Gibson is up there with the best. It is not just his macho persona, it is also the combination of vulnerability and sensitivity, which makes him look like a human, instead of a robot.
For instance there is a scene in the Patriot , where after the death of his favorite son, he goes like a mad man, and hacks down a group of British soldiers. He runs after a fleeing British soldier, catches him, and hacks him, till his anger is released. His sons are shocked, they have never seen his side of their father. And when he stands there, blood soaked, we as an audience are shocked too, but then watching his expressions, as he stands like a man, who has released all his pent up anger, we empathize with him. This was an excellent scene, in an otherwise not too great movie.
Again in Mad Max , when he watches the dead bodies of his wife and son, from afar, we see him, going there, looking at it, from a distance, and just kneeling down. It’s a man who has lost everything in his life and feels empty. In Braveheart , he is just brilliant in the scene, where he leads the rag tag Scottish Army, against the mighty British Army. When he says “They may take our lives, but they will never take OUR FREEDOM”, you cheer for him.

As Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon

Ironically in his other popular action franchise Lethal Weapon , Mel’s character was much more darker, and neurotic. This 1987 movie had Mel in a totally different role from his Mad Max persona. As Martin Riggs he was an ex Vietnam vet, with a troubled conscience. Unable to get over his wife’s death, he drinks himself and has suicidal tendencies. He is a loner, depressed, in fact a total misfit. This character seemed to be modeled on Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle character from Taxi Driver and could also be due to his real life alcoholic tendencies. Lethal Weapon was also one more in the line of opposite guys getting together, as in Martin’s partner, Roger Murtaugh(played by Danny Glover), who was a by the book, straight laced cop with a normal family life. But eventually he becomes an extended part of Murtaugh’s family, and the later movies in the Lethal Weapon series were more of pop corn fun entertainers, with car chases, witty one liners( courtesy Joe Pesci providing the comic relief) and big bang explosions. Also Mel’s character was not as dark, as in the first edition, and he also finds time for romance in Lethal Weapon 3. Both Mad Max and Lethal Weapon series made Mel one of the top most action heroes in Hollywood.

Mel Gibson along with Antony Hopkins in the Bounty

As would be proved by a host of movies like the historical epic The Bounty(1984), which was the 3rd of it’s kind based on the popular story of The Mutiny on The Bounty . Mel played the role of Fletcher Christian who leads a revolt against the tyrannical ship’s captain William Bligh( Anthony Hopkins). In real life too Hopkins and Gibson, had major fights on the set, thanks to Mel’s drinking problem, and his tendency to get into fights.

Mel Gibson along with Robert Downey Jr in Air America.

His other popular actioners included Air America(1990), where he plays a pilot in Vietnam who is framed for drug smuggling. And with Julia Roberts, he came up with a sort of comic thriller, in The Conspiracy Theory(1997), where he plays a taxi driver, who keeps imagining all sort of weird conspiracies.

But one of my favorite actioners of Mel would be Payback(1999), where he plays an ex crook, who takes on the Chinese mafia, to get back the money they stole from him. Mel again plays a character with shades of grey here, and that is what makes him a much better actor than other action heroes.
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