After 7 1/2 years, Gibson 'right back at you'
By GLENN WHIPP
The last time Mel Gibson starred in a movie, he was grappling with alien invaders and a misplaced faith in the sci-fi thriller "Signs."
That was seven and a half years ago. In the intervening time, Gibson became a cultural firebrand, directing the controversial 2004 box-office hit "The Passion of the Christ" and the violent 2006 action epic, "Apocalypto."
He also became a cultural pariah in July 2006 when, after being pulled over in Malibu for speeding and driving under the influence, Gibson made obscene, anti-Semitic remarks to the arresting officer after being handcuffed and put inside a police car.
Gibson largely disappeared after the incident, but returns to theaters today with a new movie, "Edge of Darkness," a thriller about a Boston police detective seeking revenge for the murder of his 24-year-old daughter. Receiving lukewarm reviews so far, the movie is similar in tone with past blood-drenched Gibson films such as "Ransom" and the "Lethal Weapon" franchise.
"It was time," Gibson, 54, said. "I felt like getting back in the saddle. I felt like I was getting stale about seven or eight years ago. Stepped back, did some things I wanted to do. Did a few things I didn't want to do. And then time to come back."
"I don't think Mel eases his way back into anything," said producer Graham King. "Sure, we discussed very early on, 'Is this the right role for him to come back in?' I think it is, and hopefully moviegoers will agree."
www.Hollywood.com box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian believes Gibson picked the right movie for his comeback.
"In revenge roles, Mel Gibson has few peers," Dergarabedian said. "If you've been away for awhile, it's smart to go back to what people are comfortable seeing you do."
Some, though, question whether Gibson's public standing hasn't been permanently damaged.
"I think that drunk-driving tirade confirmed a lot of people's suspicions about the kind of person Mel Gibson is," said Matthew Traub, managing director at Dan Klores Communications.
Traub, who specializes in crisis management public relations, believes people are willing to forgive celebrities for substance abuse or sexual indiscretion but draw the line at bigotry.
Gibson rejects the notion he's damaged goods.
"It's 30 years ago that I lost my own personal anonymity," Gibson said. "And it's 30 years ago that the public humiliation began. And sometimes it reaches a global level. And what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And I'm telling you right now, I'm one strong motherf—— because I'm right back at you."
Still, there have been missteps. A brief TV interview with entertainment reporter Sam Rubin turned tense when Rubin told Gibson: "Some people will welcome you back, some people will say you should never come back."
Gibson, defensive, leaned forward and asked, "Why?" Rubin replied: "Because of what happened before." Gibson: "What happened before?" Rubin: "The remarks that were attributed to you." Gibson: "The remarks that were attributed to me that I didn't necessarily make."
After the interview, Rubin questioned if Gibson was ever truly sorry for the anti-Semitic remarks he made in 2006, particularly when he now contests the comments for which he widely apologized in the aftermath of his arrest.
While some may question Gibson's remorse, there's no doubting that people are still happy to make movies with him.