Screenplay : Randall Wallace
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1995
Stars : Mel Gibson (William Wallace), Patrick McGoohan (Longshanks - King Edward I), Sophie Marceau (Princess Isabelle), Peter Hanly (Prince Edward), Angus MacFadyen (Robert the Bruce), Brendan Gleeson (Hamish), Catherine McCormack (Murron), David O'Hara (Stephen)
Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" is a violent, utterly passionate epic about the real-life Scottish hero William Wallace, a commoner who, from 1297 to 1305 A.D., led a revolt against the ruling English that eventually led to the independence of Scotland. Until "Braveheart" came out, Wallace was not a particularly well-known historical figure outside of Scotland. But, Mel Gibson's almost-three-hour tour de force of filmmaking (he played the lead role and co-produced and directed the film) changed all that, winning five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, in the process.
Gibson portrays Wallace as a peaceful, educated man who, out of force of necessity, emerges as a larger-than-life hero, a completely uncompromising patriot who wants nothing more than absolute freedom for his country. All of the characters around Wallace only add to his stature because their faults accentuate his strengths. This even includes the sympathetic characters, such as Robert the Bruce (Angus MacFadyen), a Scottish nobleman who respects and admires Wallace's convictions, but is hamstrung by the politics of the squabbling Scottish nobility. Wallace's adversaries, the brutal English King Edward I (known by the nickname "Longshanks"), who is played with nasty relish by Patrick McGoohan, and Edward's weak, sniveling son, Prince Edward II (Peter Hanly), contrast against Wallace's heroics even more. Where he is honest and determined, they are sneaky and conniving.
Very little is actually known about the historical Wallace, and what is known about him is surrounded by legends that have only grown larger over the centuries. Screenwriter Randall Wallace is thus able to build William Wallace out of both myth and fact, and his script stresses that, even during his life, Wallace was the stuff of legends. When he appears in front of his army before the Battle of Stirling, many of the men don't believe he is actually William Wallace because "he's too small."
But, despite his immense stature as a brutal solider and a brilliant leader, "Braveheart" also focuses on the more human side of Wallace. In fact, the catalyst for his getting involved with the struggle against England is the murder of his wife, Murron (Catherine McCormack), who is cast as Wallace's one true love. The Princess of England, Isabelle (Sophie Marceau), who has been forced into a loveless marriage with Edward II, yearns for Wallace because she is so taken with his undying devotion to his murdered wife. Sent by Longshanks to strike a compromise with Wallace, she ends up falling in love with him and tipping him off whenever traps are being set.
Of course, "Braveheart" is probably best known for its extensive battle sequences. Having only directed one other feature, the relatively small-scale drama "The Man Without a Face" (1993), Gibson proved to have surprising talent and control behind the camera as he orchestrated huge battles involving upwards of 1,600 extras. The film has an immense scope that is matched only by the bloody ferocity of its violence. Gibson doesn't shy away from the blood and guts aspect of 13th-century warfare involving axes, mallets, and swords. His battles are huge, bloody spectacles of sheer human barbarity, but they remain exciting rather than repulsive because that barbarity is put to the noble purpose of achieving freedom from a tyrant. The film's earthy color palette gives an almost tangible sensation of being in the wet highlands (the on-location work was filmed in both Scotland and Ireland), and John Toll's ("Legends of the Fall") cinematography turns the rugged landscape into a character all its own.
Despite its many stunning accomplishments, "Braveheart" does have its weaknesses. While historically accurate, the depiction of Longshanks' disgust at his son's obvious homosexuality borders on the sadistic. The same wispy, frail characteristics that mark him as gay also mark him as a sniveling coward, making the two appear to be one in the same (Gibson was taken to task by many gay rights groups for his alleged homophobia). Gibson also tends to lavish a few too many close-ups on himself, which is a common fault of superstar actors who direct themselves (see also Warren Beatty).
Still, "Braveheart" is epic filmmaking at its glorious best. Because it is an epic about a larger-than-life hero, "Braveheart" is told in strong, broad strokes, leaving little room for subtleties. It is about bold, old-fashioned themes like heroism, sacrifice, and undying love, which are splashed across the screen with unapologetic sensationalism. The rhetoric of the film works at our basest, most militaristic levels, and it is hard not to be roused at Wallace's many inspirational speeches about dying for the cause of freedom.
"Braveheart" is a wildly ambitious film, to be sure, especially for a second-time director. Yet, it works on virtually every level. At one point in the film, a character bemoans the fact that history is written by the men who hang heroes. Wallace did die a horrible death at the hands of the English, and his story has been largely relegated to the darkest corners of history books. But, as "Braveheart" proves, men of his conviction are never completely forgotten.
|Audio||Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Languages||English (5.1, 2.0)|
|Supplements|| Running audio commentary with director Mel Gibson|
"Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Passion" behind-the-scenes documentary
Two theatrical trailers
|The new anamorphic widescreen transfer in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is outstanding. The film was shot mostly in earthy tones, and the transfer maintains the film's dark, wet look very well. There are, of course, many scenes that were shot in bright sunlight in the beautiful, rolling grassy hills of Scotland and Ireland, and the high level of detail and strong colors make the landscape come alive. The battle scenes are especially vivid, and despite all the action on-screen, there was no noticeable digital artifacting.|
|Some have complained that the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix on this disc is too harsh, especially when compared to the Dolby AC-3 track on the THX-certified laser disc. I found the soundtrack to be quite excellent throughout, with great range and a creative use of imaging and directionality. Yes, it is a loud soundtrack with a great deal of heavy bass, from thundering horses to battering rams. The battle scenes are particularly vivid, creating an enveloping sensation of clanging swords and banging armor. James Horner's beautiful score, which is extremely reminiscent of his later work for "Titanic" (1997) with its reliance on wind instruments and bagpipes, is also nicely highlighted.|
|Paramount Pictures has outfitted this release with a nice set of extras. As "Braveheart" has been one of the most requested DVD releases for several years, to have done anything less might have really upset some fans. The main supplement is the scene-specific running audio commentary with director/star Mel Gibson. I have always found Gibson to be one of the most amiable, enjoyable, and interesting people working in Hollywood, and his commentary is great to listen to. He has a laid-back, but informative approach that sheds light on the film while also entertaining. The disc also includes a nice 28-minute documentary titled "Mel Gibson's Braveheart: A Filmmaker's Passion." While the title seems to suggest the whole documentary is about Gibson, it covers much more, especially the six weeks that were spent shooting the huge battle of Stirling, the film's centerpiece. There are also brief interviews with most of the major stars, as well as screenwriter Randall Wallace and several co-producers. The disc also includes two theatrical trailers, both in nonanamorphic widescreen and stereo sound.|
©2000 James Kendrick