EXCLUSIVE: It’s a project that will have everybody in Hollywood and beyond talking. I’ve learned that Warner Bros has set up an untitled drama that teams Gibson and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas on the telling of the heroic story of Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee. Eszterhas will write the script, and I understand that Gibson will collaborate with him. Maccabee teamed with his father and four brothers to lead the Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrian armies that had conquered Judea in the second century B.C. Gibson has the first option to direct but will definitely produce the film through his Icon Productions banner. It’s understandable why Warner Bros would want to be back in business with Gibson, who was once a high-profile fixture there and who made a fortune for that studio with the Lethal Weapon series and other films.
Having put some painful personal issues behind him, Gibson is determined to get back to making movies. He has long wanted to make this film about heroic Jews, and it was discussed even when he was under fire after his drunken anti-Semitic rant during a 2006 Malibu arrest. Maccabee’s triumph and struggle against tyranny and oppression where people gave their lives so that others would be free to worship is celebrated by Jews all over the world through Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. This subject matter is a decided departure for the filmmaker famous for directing The Passion of the Christ. But in a way the subject matter is in his wheelhouse: Maccabee is a close cousin to William Wallace, leader of the Scottish rebellion against the English in Braveheart, the film that brought Gibson two Oscars: for Best Picture and Best Director. Gibson last directed Apocalypto about the Mayan civilization and a tribesman who escapes human sacrifice and saves his family. While Gibson has experienced tremendous success as a producer and director, his recent star turn in front of the camera in The Beaver was a box office failure even though it received a rousing ovation at this past Cannes Film Festival.
This new deal also marks a major return to filmmaking for Joe Eszterhas, once Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriter for pics like Basic Instinct, Jagged Edge, and Flashdance. His credits also include two films that focused on Jewish themes: the 1987 Betrayed, which starred Debra Winger as an undercover FBI agent probing white supremacists, and 1989’s Music Box, which starred Jessica Lange whose Hungarian immigrant father is accused of engaging in atrocities during World War II. Both films were directed by Costa-Gavras and produced by Irwin Winkler. Music Box resulted in Eszterhas being condemned by the Hungarian Parliament for “betraying his heritage” by revealing the massacre of Jewish Hungarians by other Hungarians at the end of World War II. However, in 1995, Eszterhas was awarded the Emanuel Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his writings about the Holocaust in Hungary.
In recent years, Eszterhas stepped away from Hollywood, moved to Cleveland, overcame cancer, and focused on writing books instead of films. Both he and Gibson have had their share of travails, and make an unexpected and intriguing pairing on an unexpected and intriguing subject.