Yesterday afternoon, it was reported that Mel Gibson's Jewish epic about Maccabee, the man who led a Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrian armies that conquered Judea in the second century B.C., was put on hold at Warner Bros. because the script by Joe Eszterhas ("Basic Instinct," "Jade") wasn't working. And then things got ugly. The Wrap posted a scathing nine-page letter the screenwriter had privately sent Gibson, and it's an eye-melting read, giving a first-hand account of the actor/director's rage and, more troublingly, his apparent unwavering anti-Semitism. Deadline got in the game with a statement from Gibson that calmly denied the charges. So it's Eszterhas vs. Gibson, and both stories are wildly different, and we'd reckon as these things usually go, the truth stands somewhere in the middle. So let's break it down…
The Joe Eszterhas Story: Oof, it's a wild one, and for anyone looking for evidence that Gibson is still a lunatic, harboring psychotic, hateful venom deep within his soul, this is the fuel they're looking for. The letter claims that during their time working together on the Maccabee story, Gibson was transparent about making "a Jewish Braveheart" to help clean up his reputation. However, Eszterhas says that, if anything, Gibson's true feelings hadn't changed, and that during their meetings he dropped a variety of slurs, calling various people "Hebes," "oven-dodgers" and "Jewboys." It gets worse. The longest section of the letter details a visit to Gibson's Malibu home where he apparently lost it, raging against his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, saying that he wanted to kill her, and describing to Eszterhas' fifteen year-old son that he would "fuck her in the ass and stab her to death while I'm doing it."
The Mel Gibson Story: Well, this one is quite simple. Gibson says plainly that a "great majority of the facts as well as the statements and actions attributed to me in your letter are utter fabrications."
Where The Stories Meet: One thing that appears to hold up on both sides is that Gibson did lose his temper while Eszterhas was with him in Costa Rica, though to what extent depends on who you believe. But it seems true that after one particularly bad incident, Gibson wrote a letter to Eszterhas apologizing, saying: "Sorry for my outburst. I have a vast reservoir of rage-filled puss that from time to time spills out. Unfortunately, sometimes even on those I love. Please forgive it — it was wrong of me — Mel…Also — since the devil seems to afflict me thru anger and my tongue — I won't say much for awhile. Please don't take this for anything more than me just trying to cope." Gibson addresses this incident saying only, "I did react more strongly than I should have. I promptly sent you a written apology, the colorful words of which you apparently now find offensive. Let me now clearly apologize to you and your family in the simplest of terms."
But what was the cause of that anger? Apparently Eszterhas hadn't done any work on the project, at least not as fast as Gibson wanted. "You're getting paid, I'm not! Shit! I'm earning money for a filthy little Russian cocksucker who takes advantage of me! Just like everything motherfucker! So hurry the fuck up and give me the first draft!" Eszhertas says Gibson yelled at him, admitting that he ultimately delivered the script nearly two weeks late, at the end of February. Gibson said he was "extraordinarily disappointed with the draft," and that "In 25 years of script development I have never seen a more substandard first draft or a more significant waste of time. The decision not to proceed with you was based on the quality of your script, not on any other factor."
The Final Verdict: Eszterhas claims that his draft earned praise from a variety of people including Mark Gooder, one of the honchos at Gibson's production company Icon. Of course, the screenwriter, who has been around the block in Hollywood more than once, should also realize that everyone loves the work you do except when it comes to actually greenlighting something. And there is the larger, lingering question of why Eszterhas even stayed on the project if he was so deeply offended, even from the research stage of their work together. At one point he claims he hoped to "convert" Gibson through "the power of the script," though that seems like a bit of rationalization. Our guess is that he simply just needed the job. As for Gibson? Well, whether these claims are exaggerated or not, even if there is a kernel of truth to the foundation (and we'd wager there is), he's effectively put the kibosh on any chances in hell of a comeback. Eszterhas closes the letter by saying that Gibson needs to stop living in isolation and undergo deep therapy, and that seems like sound advice.