Lethal Weapon, arguably one of the finest action films from the 80s was released exactly 30 years ago today. This film redefined the cop genre by giving the protagonists depth and vulnerability but at the same time injecting humour amongst the explosions and gun fights. There are many great scenes in this movie but I would love to share with you my all time favourite and also some background to it which helps argue why for me this is one of the finest scenes in ANY 80’s film.
Picture this, you are Academy Award winning director Richard Donner and you've just briefed rising Hollywood star Mel Gibson about the forthcoming scene. His character Martin Riggs will be alone in his trailer and in a moment of madness he is contemplating suicide. He is an inconsolable wreck as he stares a picture of his recently deceased wife while he fondles a handgun. On the TV in the corner of the room a bug’s bunny cartoon plays out its slapstick humour but Riggs isn’t paying any attention.
To add weight and realism to the scene, Richard informs Mel just before the cameras roll that the gun he will be holding is actually loaded with live blanks which whilst aren't strictly as dangerous as bullets, could still kill or injure anyone. He thinks this little tactic will bring out the best in Mel and that his reactions to this danger will be more real. Mel looks at Richard and doesn't say anything, but the atmosphere is palpable.
Action! Take one
Mel is more than up to the task, his portrayal of a man agonising over his beloved wife is formidable. He treats the gun almost like another actor, almost feeding off the atmosphere. As directed Mel lifts the gun to his temple and the tension raises just enough to lift the scene.
Suddenly Mel puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger back, much to the shock of the entire film crew. This isn’t in the script. Those that know that the gun is loaded know that this move could end badly. Richard Donner however has worked with the best method actors including perhaps the all time legend; Marlon Brando and against all health and safety protocol he goes with his instinct and lets the cameras roll. Meanwhile Mel portrayal of Riggs is harrowing, he wants to end the pain but perhaps his sense of duty prevents him from doing it. As he lowers the gun he looks at the picture of his wife and says “I’ll see you later, I’ll see you much later” giving the viewer the sense that Riggs has had a realisation that suicide will never be the answer.
The crew’s hearts drop from their mouths back to their chests and a collective sigh of relief is heard all over the set. The tech team rush in and disarm the gun and Mel walks off set but not before giving his director a dry smile. They both know without watching the playback that Mel has it in one take. For me this is the perfect synergy between a great director and a brilliant actor coming together to create something greater than the sum of their parts.
Check out the scene in its entirety below