By Sharon Waxman and Brent Lang
Exclusive -- Warner Bros. has put on hold a controversial Mel Gibson movie project about the Jewish Maccabee revolt in the 2nd century B.C. after reading the script by writer Joe Eszterhas, TheWrap has learned.
A spokesman for the studio told TheWrap, "We are analyzing what to do with the project."
Jewish groups were outraged after news broke in September that Gibson had reached a production deal with Warner's to direct the story of Judah Maccabee, whose victory over Greek and Syrian armies is celebrated at Hanukkah. One Jewish group called it "a moral lapse in judgment."
Eszterhas delivered the script in late February, and Warner's has since passed on it, according to an individual close to the project. Warner production president Greg Silverman described it as lacking in "feeling" and "a sense of triumph," according to the individual.
As another individual put it, "The script didn't pass muster."
A spokesman for Gibson had no immediate comment. Eszterhas declined to comment.
Warner's has a long history of collaborating with Gibson, but the star was upset after the studio rescinded his cameo in "The Hangover Part II" when the crew protested his involvement
Also on TheWrap: Mel Gibson's Judah Maccabee Film Stirs Jewish Leaders' Ire
The project involved one of Gibson's favored themes: an underdog army fighting for freedom. In 165 B.C., Jewish leader Maccabee led his brothers in revolt against the Seleucid Empire, ruled by Antiochus Epiphanes, who had forbidden Jewish practices.
Noting his checkered history of making anti-Semitic remarks and his controversial depiction of Jews in his 2003 film "The Passion of the Christ," Jewish leaders said the choice of Gibson to direct a film about a prominent figure in their religion was insensitive.
"Casting him as a director or perhaps as the star of 'Judah Maccabee' is like casting Madoff to be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission," Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement after the project was announced.
The Anti-Defamation League asked Warner's to reconsider the choice of Gibson. In a statement, the group said, "Not only has Mel Gibson shown outward antagonism toward Jews and Judaism in his public statements and actions, but his previous attempt to bring biblical history to life on the screen was marred by anti-Semitism."
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The American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants labeled the choice of Gibson a "moral lapse of judgment."
"Given our brutal experience, we are pained that Warner's has abandoned principle and taken this unworthy path," the group said at the time.
Gibson was detained by police in Malibu for drunken driving in 2006 and found himself embroiled in a public relations fiasco when reports surfaced that he had launched into expletive-laden anti-Semitic remarks while in custody.
It was left to Eszterhas to offer a modest defense of Gibson in a New York Times interview in February. The screenwriter noted that he had an anger problem but said he understood how to make a movie of the story of Maccabee on a "Braveheart"-like scale.
"We both saw it as Mel, maybe from his heart, wanting to do a terrific 'Braveheart'-like movie about Jewish history," said Eszterhas, who said he was comfortable working with Gibson despite his problem.
I find it hilarious that the Jewish "leaders" would kill the movie that would make one of their finest moments understood to the world. Too bad, as it's a great story. Although, the Jews have been killing off their best for the past 2000 years or so...
How sad, it really sounded like Mel wanted to make it right, and I enjoy his epics. Perhaps a little too late to make amends for his past behavior.
I am not certain that the subject would be well received anyway. Maccabee is an historical figure and basically only of interest to Historians, Jews and biblical oriented audience.
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