1995, R, 177 min. Directed by Mel Gibson. Starring Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, Angus Mcfadyen, Brendan Gleeson.
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., May 26, 1995
In the late 13th century, after England, under Edward I, extended its rule over Scotland, William Wallace helped lead the charge for Scottish independence. There is a real history of Wallace, though not much is actually known and much of what is comes from the unreliable 300-page poem by Blind Harry, written a century and a half after Wallace's adventures. Wallace was obsessed with liberty and freedom and, as was extremely rare then, incorruptible; he couldn't be bought with land or money. There is a historical person. Then there is this splendid, rousing adventure by Mel Gibson, a deliberate heroic myth-making tale that combines history with fantasy. Gibson, who starred, produced and directed, audaciously presents this as a classic adventure, without apology, telling the tale of a Scotland suppressed by King Edward I (McGoohan), of William Wallace (Gibson), a commoner who wanted nothing to do with the cause, of his falling in love, of tragic turns that forced him to take up arms in a war for freedom and liberty. Although it presents complex political relationships, these are mostly entanglements designed to complicate and enhance the plot rather than pose real ideological or historical relationships. Gibson plays fast and free with history, but Braveheart is a film of romance, of legend, of possibility, and of freedom. Deftly, Gibson directs this epic along; with most of the story racing to reach the screen, the almost three-hour film rarely drags until just before the end, and even then, redeems itself. No revisionist history here, and few dark undercurrents, war is made to look brutal and fruitless, and at the same time heroic. Wallace begins by leading a small band of rebels and is soon at the head of a large army fighting several battles destined to become famous. This is a movie of warfare, of smoke, of blood, and of fire. Action directing is unusually difficult; it requires enormous imagination to be able to cinematically convey a battle -- part of the genius of Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus is that the battle scenes are so coherent. We know where each side is, we know how and when they are crashing. Although Gibson occasionally overuses slow motion, the whole film is beautiful (shot by Legends of the Fall cinematographer John Toll), and the battle scenes are splendid. Lacking Kevin Costner-liberal-revisionist tendencies or Spartacus screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's overt politics, outside of celebrating violence, freedom, liberty, and the rights of the people against the uncaring nobles -- all as extremely broad and nonspecific concepts -- Braveheart offers no real vision. But it is the most thrilling epic since Clint Eastwood's The Ballad of Josey Wales; the scope is grand and the acting ideal for the film. If you can't stand a certain amount of body-hacking and naïve adventuring, then this is probably not for you, although Annie, planning to duck out in the middle and go book-shopping, found herself glued to her seat for the entire time. Epics frequently flail about, characters lost in dialogue rather than action, they climax too quickly, or offer great action scenes but no plot. Braveheart overcomes these problems; it is tightly scripted and beautifully directed. If The Wind and the Lion or Robin Hood (MGM's not Costner's) or Spartacus are your kind of films, Braveheart will delight. A month back, I had been pondering whether movies still held power for me. Then Annie and I saw the brilliant but harrowing Once Were Warriors. Afterwards, it was as a guest in our home and in our selves for days after, and Braveheart, not so ambitious or extraordinary, proved thrilling, a grand cinematic adventure -- beautifully handled myth-making from Gibson, who, by the way, is just fine in the lead.