I have decided after many seconds of consideration that Lethal Weapon is my favourite Christmas movie. At this time of year, every single year, we get treated to some unimaginative and samey list of the best ever Christmas movies (or “of all time”, as if to suggest that some of the movies made in the 14th Century or at the time of Christ were certainly considered but didn’t quite make the list because of some dodgy cinematography or slightly dated views on eunuchs). These lists usually add one more modern ‘classic’ every few years (the latest to be granted this status seems to be Elf, which can best be described as a reasonable way of filling two hours of your life that doesn’t involve paralysis or a cardiac event) but they all usually bow down to the same handful of bell ringing, carol singing, ball breaking, tear jerking, sprout chewing yuletide windfests. The fairy on the top of the tree inevitably ends up being It’s A Wonderful Life; which is good, but not as good as you think it is. Yes, I am in floods of tears at the end but the rest of it is a really quite tedious preamble – indeed, if you’re not in the right mood the whole experience can be compared to watching paint dry for what feels like four hours before the best bit where someone comes along to tell you to stop looking, because the paint has dried. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but there is a grain of truth in there.
Love Actually is always on the list these days. I’m rather fond of it (I’d much rather watch it every year over It’s A Wonderful Life) but you have to be careful not to watch it too closely for fear of becoming irreversibly immersed in a sticky fondue of slick sentiment (that being the raison d’être of most Christmas films). Home Alone is also fine, though it is worth remembering that all everyone really wants to see is the two burglars experiencing horrific levels of violence and pain and that all of those scenes could comfortably fit together into an advert break. Nativity seems to be popular too and like most things you can watch has Martin Freeman in it (this is not strictly a bonus). I watched it by accident the other week and it even got two laughs from me, but in the end it is a film that in any other circumstance would best be described as mediocre and shit at the same time. You can easily chip away at the rest and be left with only a small handful of great Christmas films, even though they are technically just great films that happen to be set at Christmas.
One is Die Hard, which is a very fine film indeed. Another is Trading Places, which is now regarded by some as deeply offensive and should therefore be banned; and which in turn means that instead it should be enjoyed all the more, to remind us how stupid we used to be. Stupid, and very, very funny. And once you whittle it down enough you end up with Lethal Weapon, which falls into a similar kind of late 80’s action movie bracket as Die Hard, but is actually the superior film. And yet it never gets a mention. It never goes in Christmas movie lists and it barely gets talked about anywhere else either. For me it is, perhaps along with Predator, Commando, 48 Hours and a few others firmly in the premier league of 80’s action movies, and it may well even be in my top ten movies of all time. Which is saying quite a lot, because as we know I have a lot better taste than you. And you.
It has a great script, a great score, a story that works and a cast that can deliver it. It has some superb scenes and sequences, with not a whiff of CGI to be seen, and it bristles with energy and humour and a thick streak of darkness that you didn’t get a lot of in big 80’s films. It also has a great villain in Gary Busey; before he turned into ‘Fat Gary Busey’ aka ‘Not Nick Nolte’. For all that Lethal Weapon is a damn fine piece of work, but there is one thing that sends it so much higher: Mel Gibson. You can have your Mad Max and your Braveheart, and even your What Women Want, but be in no doubt – this is Mel Gibson’s finest two hours on screen. I am a huge fan of Gibson, and I’m not ashamed to say it. He was and shall always remain a complete twat for his anti-Semitic rants and his frequently wayward behaviour – behaviour that pretty much ripped his career to shreds for ten years – but I’d still say he was easily the most charismatic, exciting and magnetic actor of his generation. He was also ridiculously good looking. Almost as good looking as Sundance Kid era Robert Redford. Almost. I remember seeing his face on a poster for the film when I was on holiday in France (I was 11) and from that moment I was in. I somehow knew that I had to see the film (once I’d worked out the title, which was in French, of course, and no it wasn’t just Lethale Weapone) and bizarrely I also knew I would like it. It is not necessarily an exaggeration to say I may have seen it as many times as I have been alive on Christmas day.
Mel Gibson is perfect in Lethal Weapon. He hits just the right mixture of tough, nuts, pained, funny and cool and there is not one moment in the entire film that he is on screen that you cannot gawp at him. Now that’s a fucking movie star. For quite a stretch of my impressionable years the person I most wanted to look like was Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon (until I found early 70’s Keith Richards and moved on: I have never and will never look anything like either of them, which continues to break my heart). If you’ve never seen Lethal Weapon then you should give it a try, even if Mel Gibson isn’t your cuppa. I’m watching it now and to me it hasn’t aged one bit. What has aged though is Mel Gibson in general. That beautiful face is now smothered in beard and shows the lines of a life lived dangerously. Through some miracle (perhaps not the right word) he has slowly edged his way back into movie making, though he will never be the draw he once was. But if you think he’s a spent force then think again. He is still robust and has lost none of that magnetism or that spectacular glint in those eyes. He can still threaten violence with the briefest of glances. If you don’t believe me you should also try watching a brilliant (but pretty bleak) film called Dragged Across Concrete, to see he is as good as he ever was; just older and, one would hope, a little wiser. There, that’s settled: Lethal Weapon is my favourite Christmas movie. Although it isn’t really about the Christmas at all. It’s about Mel Gibson. At Christmas.
G B Hewitt. 17.12.2021