Date: 19th August 2003

Make or break for Mel

Mel Gibson's latest directorial effort The Passion has stirred controversy and angered Jews, but it's still a very good movie, says Michael Bodey.
It is the world's greatest story. Also the most contentious.

So when one of Hollywood's biggest stars finances his own interpretation of The Passion, based on Gospel accounts of the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life, controversy is assured.

Already, Mel Gibson faces charges of anti-Semitism, despite few "critics" having seen the film.

But Gibson did allow more than 400 Australian cinema owners, managers and distributors to view five minutes of the film last week at the Australian International Movie Convention.

The result was everything they could have hoped for. This is no Battlefield Earth, John Travolta's vanity tribute to Scientology.

This is visceral cinema that possesses the actors including Jim Caviezel as Jesus to pull it off, the visual beauty to sweep audiences away and brutal realism.

Gibson has joked this could be "the career-killer" but Australian exhibitors are lining up to secure it for screening next year.

"The thing we need to understand with this movie is it's not a small picture by any means," said Mark Gooder, CEO of Icon Film Distribution.

Icon, of which Gibson is a co-owner, will release The Passion in the first quarter of 2004.

"The reaction to that footage, including my own reaction, was what a beautiful-looking film," he added. "It looks extremely powerful and that's the response I got from exhibitors.

From my point of view it was a great response," said Gooder.

Nevertheless, The Passion's actors speak in the ancient languages, Latin and Aramaic (itself a contentious point because scholars contend the army spoke Greek).

The film is expected to be subtitled, even if the story is familiar enough. But the story's familiarity is its bone of contention because Gibson belongs to a traditionalist Catholic sect that rejects the entire body of Vatican teaching since Pope John XXIII, including its apology for the church's persecution of the Jews.

The "
charge" of deicide levelled by the Church against the Jews was essentially "dropped" by the Second Vatican Council in 1962.

One insider who has seen a rough cut said the film "
showed an overwhelming message of forgiveness and faith".

Yet Gibson told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly in January that his film may offend Jewish people.

It may. It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth . . . Anybody who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability."

Which was enough to send America's Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism, into overdrive and send Gibson into a frenzy screening the film to Catholic friendly audiences in America.

Critics and even censors will have a field day dissecting The Passion's merits, historical accuracy and tone.

On last week's viewing, the Oscar-winning director has made anything but "
a career-killer". After all, he didn't cast J.Lo or Madonna.

The Daily Telegraph

Source: Press Release