I’ve read it. And here’s what I can tell you: it’s exceedingly bloody, it’s hardly mainstream – and it is in every way a Jewish “Braveheart,” just as Eszterhas claimed.
The question is, perhaps: Does anyone outside the Anti-Defamation League want to see a Jewish “Braveheart”?
Eszterhas’s script is remarkably faithful to the 2nd century B.C. biblical tale. A group of five brothers, sons of the high priest Mattathias, band together to fight the anti-Jewish occupation of Israel by the Greek-Syrian ruler, Antiochus.
It is primal: white hats and black hats. Heroes and heinous villains. Good vs. evil.
On the face of it, this is a script that Mel Gibson should absolutely love: A band of pious underdogs take on an evil overlord. (They don’t paint their faces a la “Braveheart,” but the Jewish women are physically branded as harlots.)
It is full of throat-slitting and cutting off of heads. There are miles of heads on stakes. In one scene, a woman plunges a dagger into the eye of an opponent. Hearts are cut out of dead bodies.
And the fighting is full of Rambo-like relish.
From one scene:
“Ramses turns to run, but Judah is on him…Ramses falls. Judah kills him with his bare hands – lifting him by the neck and snapping it suddenly. Judah gets up and faces the other mercenaries. He is a crazed, furious, dervish – explosive, a killing machine. The mercenaries have shields, swords, and shovel-like spears. Judah draws his knife. He is a fighting machine at full roar.”
Like “Passion of the Christ,” “The Maccabees” assert their principles in the face of a sadistic, heathen overlord (that would be the Greek-Syrian Antiochus instead of the Roman overlord Pontius Pilate).
Also read: Joe Eszterhas' Letter to Mel Gibson
And like “Braveheart,” it is a story of people fighting for freedom. In one scene, Judah the Maccabee vows:
“We will be free! The day will come when we’ll be free! We will be free to pray to our God! We will be free to educate our children! We will never have to bend our knee to anyone but our Lord! The day will come when we’ll be strong and mighty, strong enough to defeat anyone – anyone! – who wants to wipe us off the face of the earth. (He puts his clenched fist up into the air and bows his head.)”
Some might find it a little much, but not – as Warner Bros. production president Greg Silverman told Eszterhas – short on “feeling” and “a sense of triumph.” It’s got feeling in spades and as far as triumph goes, probably too much for many. (Spoiler alert: the Jews win.)
But here’s the other question about this script: it’s a first draft. And as such, Warner’s decision to reject it whole cloth is a mystery. After spending presumably hundreds of thousands of dollars on Eszterhas, why not give him notes and get him to do a rewrite, as more commonly happens in Hollywood?
(We’re not printing the whole thing, because our lawyers told us not to.)
In every way, the storytelling is consistent with the pen of the man who created a full-frontal villain with an ice-pick, and who can’t resist a lascivious sex scene.
And the man who always aware of the Holocaust. In fact, in one scene a character refers to the Greek-Syrian occupation as a “Holocaust.”
The tone of “The Maccabees” is wholly in line with both “Passion of The Christ,” and, well, “The Terminator.”
It's surprising that Gibson would reject it, along with Warner Bros. It seems right up his alley.