The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gibson set to strike gold with gamble

Los Angeles, Feb. 20 (Reuters): A year ago it would have been an unthinkable pitch in the halls of a Hollywood studio — a blood-drenched, sub-titled epic of the death of Jesus Christ directed by a man fighting demons of his own and dogged by controversy at every turn.

Instead, Mel Gibson’s self-financed $30 million The Passion of the Christ opens next week in 2,800 theatres looking to be a sure-fire box office winner thanks to the culture war that has erupted over his film, including uproar over whether it was anti-Semitic and if its portrait of Jesus was historically accurate.

And if those controversies were not enough, there are also heated arguments over the ultra-conservative nature of Gibson’s Catholicism, the extraordinary level of violence in the film he made and even over whether he shares his father’s views doubting the Holocaust.

For long, Gibson was one of Hollywood’s most bankable Golden Boys — an American-born, Australian-raised A-list action hero who could command $20 million a picture due to his portrayal of affable wise guys in films as Mad Max and the Lethal Weapon series. While his films teem with violent, sometime sadistic scenes, the talk was of his wit, love of practical jokes and charm. Rene Russo called him “the best kisser in Hollywood.”

But for over a year, the question has been if Gibson’s career would survive The Passion of the Christ. Seldom has a film been more divisive before opening and seemed more destined to failure than the epic filmed in the dead languages of Latin and Aramaic.

But thanks in part to the controversy and careful showcasing of the film before adoring Christian audiences, with potential enemies kept out of screenings, it looks ready to go on a box office roll. A prominent Jewish leader, World Jewish Congress vice president Elan Steinberg, said his colleagues should have kept quiet because their complaints compounded interest. “When was the last time you saw a movie in Aramaic'” he asked. Some Jewish leaders worry the film will stir an anti-Jewish sentiments as there is no more sensitive issue in Christian-Jewish relations than who is responsible for the crucifixion.

Dallas evangelist Mike Evans, who saw the film with Gibson, said he told the filmmaker he could have ended the controversy with a simple footnote on screen at the end of the movie. “The Romans crucified 250,000 Jews but only one of them rose.” He said Gibson liked the idea but never followed through.

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