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Warner Bros. is joining forces with Mel Gibson to develop a movie about the Jewish hero Judah Maccabee, and Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas has come aboard to write the screenplay. Gibson will produce through his Icon Productions and will decide whether he’ll act in or direct the film once the script is completed.
Although Gibson was accused of anti-Semitism by a number of Jewish leaders when he released The Passion of the Christ in 2004, he’s wanted to tackle a movie about Maccabee for more than a decade. Maccabbee, considered one of the great warriors in Jewish history, led a popular revolt against he Seleucid king Antiochus IV, seizing Jerusalem and reconsecrating the Temple, an event remembered by the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
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Eszterhas, who hit it big in the ‘80s with movies like Flashdance, Jagged Edge and Basic Instinct, before retreating from Hollywood in recent years, has been talking with Gibson for about a year and did a lot of his own research on the subject before embarking on a screenplay, according to once source familiar with the project.
There’s no timetable in place at the moment, but once Ezterhas, repped by ICM, completes the script, Gibson will decide whether or not to act in the film and whether he’ll direct it. Gibson’s last film appearance was his star turn in Jodie Foster’s The Beaver, which opened in May.
Whether the controversial actor’s decision to take on a Jewish hero appeases his critics remains to be seen.
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“The story that has always fired my imagination…is the Book of Maccabbees,” Gibson told Sean Hannity in a WABC ratio interview in 2004 when he was promoting The Passion. “The Maccabbees family stood up, and they made war, they stuck by their guns, and they came out winning. It’s like a Western,” he explained.
Certainly, the tale of the Maccabees could lend itself to the kind of harsh realism that Gibson employed in The Passion and Apocalypto. The Maccabees were a fierce group of guerilla warriors who revolted against the Seleucid Empire and its ruler, who had forbidden Jewish religious practices. Some consider the Maccabees to have been zealots; their revolt started with the murder of a Jew who practiced Hellenism. After the Maccabees wrested control of Judea from the Syrean Greeks, they set out to purify the land. After rededicating the Temple — the story of the festival of Hanukkah is born out of the legend that a small jug of oil sustained the Temple’s Menorah for a miraculous eight days — the Maccabees ruled with an iron fist. They compelled observance of religious laws, circumcised newborns and killed apostates.
In 2004, though, Gibson’s critics objected to his making such a movie. The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman told the Orlando Sentinel, that if Gibson made that movie, “We’ll lose. He’ll write his own history. I would prefer to leave the fate of Jewish history and Hollywood to Steven Spielberg. The Maccabees…are our sacred history.
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