The Good: Well written, Well acted, Well directed, Character moments
The Bad: Long (and feels it), Character inconsistencies, History
The Basics: Despite obvious historical inconsistencies, Braveheart is a good historical drama with much to offer an audience.
One of my big complaints in films is that often characters who are playing normal people seem to have superhuman abilities, most especially endurance. Characters on the screen seem to be able to endure repeated savage beatings, then triumph over the enemy who is pounding away at them. It's like there's a movie notion that the attacker gets more tired beating the victim than the victim is hurt by it. Anyway, it's stupid and silly and Braveheart seems to live on this convention for too long.
Based - supposedly - on the life of Scottish hero William Wallace, Braveheart tells an epic tale of one man who falls in love, seeks the simple life and is thwarted from that by English oppression. King Longshanks invokes an obscure British colonial tradition to attempt to breed rebellion out of the Scots and Wallace's wife falls prey to a would-be rapist. William saves her, briefly. She is murdered and William goes into an all-fire quest to rid Scotland of the English in the name of Freedom. The rest of the film follows Wallace as he pillages the Scottish countryside, routing English forces, then presses the attack to Britain itself with the aid of the Princess of England, a crazy Irishman and his good friend Hamish. Well, as much as it can.
The strength of Braveheart is it's telling a pretty standard story in a setting that feels new. Scotland is pretty much an enigma to most Americans, so it's a nice place to take some liberties with history. William Wallace is - still - a hero to the Scots and Braveheart does its best to make the character both a pragmatist in acknowledgment of his own heroism and a hero in his own right. Not quite the anti-hero Porter of Payback, Mel Gibson makes William Wallace a man who understands the depth of his own impact. There is a scene where Wallace openly confronts others about the myth of William Wallace.
Did William Wallace have such lofty, noble goals as the selfless pursuit of freedom? Who knows? Not I. In the end, it doesn't matter. This is a fiction, a drama, set in a historical time period with limitations and conventions such. Did the Scots moon the English? Unlikely. But it makes for an entertaining moment in the film.
Braveheart is an appropriately violent film with battle scenes of gore and violence appropriate to a medieval setting. With real style, however, director Mel Gibson leaves the most brutal scenes - the death of William's wife and the climactic torture scene - more to the imagination than the celluloid. It's refreshing, too. It works best in a lot of ways not seeing the most traumatic gore.
Often what saves a redundant - if worthy - plot is the characters. Here they are worth it. Wallace is a man trying not to be a legend. He is surrounded by his obvious sidekick Hamish, a man whose ties to his family are so tight that his warrior father accompanies him throughout. The crazed Irish king Stephen is a wonderful foil to the idealism and nobility of William. And the brooding Robert the Bruce adds something of a philosophical element to the film that is often overshadowed by the battles.
Played wonderfully by Angus McFadden, Robert the Bruce is the man who would be king on the precipice of understanding the responsibilities of nobility. Stephen is played by David O'Hara and he is easily the scene stealer of the film. Every moment he speaks, it's gold, adding humor and infusing an alternative perspective in what could be a dangerously monolithic film.
As for Mel Gibson, he does a great job acting and directing here. Playing an early scene with grace and body language, Gibson reminds us he can act. The style and vision of the film informs us that he can direct.
Sure the film is long and occasionally it feels that way. What's worse is the simplistic notion of love that Wallace displays early on in the film. Fortunately, it's not continued throughout. Unfortunately, it does appear to be abandoned and the viewer is asked to believe Wallace embarks on a quest spurred by love, yet will hop into bed with another.
C'est la vie. Or, I suppose, arg?
Braveheart is entertaining, so long as one does not attempt to evaluate it as any sort of historical document. If you were to do that, well, the film would be far less enjoyable.
[As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this film is part of W.L.'s Best Picture Project, available by clicking here!]
For other films featuring Brendan Gleeson, please check out:
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 1
Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010, 2009, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.