B y T o m D a n e h y
IF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE were reviewing Braveheart, he'd likely say something like "Audacity, thy name is Mel." For, quite simply, Braveheart is by a wide margin the best film thus far this year, and the reason is that actor/director Mel Gibson started with a clear, bold vision and carried it through with amazing resolve.
Indeed, The Bard did say it best. Audacity runs wild through this project.
It's audacious in that it runs nearly three hours with very few lags, a serious oddity in this day and age of the cookie-cutter, 100-minute, get-'em-in-and-out-quickly movies.
It's audacious in that Gibson and the studio would buck a written-in-stone law that says summer movies must be mindless fare: zany comedies, action flicks with lots of explosions, plus the perfunctory Disney animated project (which, by coincidence, Gibson also stars in this year). To be sure, there is plenty of action in this film, including some of the best battle scenes ever filmed, but it's hand-to-hand combat, ugly and brutal, not stylized and phony.
And it's mostly audacious that Gibson would take such a bold chance here. Face it, Gibson could have coasted along for the rest of his career, making a Lethal Weapon movie every few years and sprinkling in some romantic comedies along the way, but he didn't. He chose to make a film so unformulaic that it has wags scrambling to find comparisons.
(By the way, if anyone dares to compare it to Kevin Costner's dreadful Robin Hood or even the wildly overrated Dances With Wolves, you slap them hard, then send them to me.)
Gibson, often mistakenly dismissed as God's perfect collection of eyes, smile and butt, has made an epic here, a film that constantly surprises moviegoers with its sweep, depth and dazzling array of visual delights.
Gibson stars as 13th-century Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, a man who has greatness thrust upon him when his life is touched tragically by the incredibly sadistic English King Edward the Longshanks (played deliciously by Patrick McGoohan). Wallace is a complex character, a widely traveled man who speaks Latin and French, but who would just as soon settle down as a farmer in his home village and marry his childhood sweetheart.
When this hope is torn asunder, Wallace lashes out against the hated English. He rallies to his cause Scottish nobles and peasants alike, many of whom are reluctant to give up even the little they've been doled out by the oppressive monarchy. Wallace is brave and true, but he's also a rousing bundle of passion and savagery, the latter of which, most crucial to the mix, Gibson deftly manages neither to sugarcoat nor glorify.
Wallace begins by organizing his villagers into a loose-knit fighting group ("militia" would be the right word here, but I won't use it lest it provide an impetus to the sorry-ass latter-day proponents thereof). There is a real sense of camaraderie among Wallace and his fellow villagers--Hamish (Brendan Gleeson), Campbell (James Cosmo) and Mornay (Alun Armstrong), as well as with David O'Hara's Stephen, an Irishman who joins the Scots in the battle against the crown.
Where the aforementioned Robin Hood had medieval warriors trading banter straight from a bad cop-buddy movie, Braveheart rings true throughout. These are men who share a common heritage and purpose, who pretty much know their fate, yet fight on for a purpose higher than mere victory.
Furthermore, where Hood was pretty and neat with a well-coifed hero, Braveheart is dirty and dark. Life was hard in the Middle Ages and director Gibson has a sharp eye for detail.
Much has been made of a scene in which Longshanks disposes of his effeminate son's lover. Jeez, lighten up, folks. Political correctness wasn't around in those days. Besides, it shows something that our society has progressed to the point where such a scene would add to our hatred of the evil king, rather than providing a snicker, as it probably would have not that long ago.
Recently on the A&E Network, director David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) bemoaned the fact that, considering budget constraints (and the play-it-safe mentality of the suits who run Hollywood), the day of the great epic film may well be gone.
Happily, Lean was wrong. Braveheart fits comfortably alongside Lawrence of Arabia and Spartacus, another film to which it favorably compares.
Braveheart may well bomb at the box office as the film's length, its downer ending and overall seriousness overwhelm Gibson's star power. But these are things for which Gibson should be applauded, not penalized. Should that happen, the next dreamer of big cinematic dreams could become gun shy. And that would be a shame.
Braveheart is a magnificent film, full of the things that make moviemaking great. Make this your first movie of the summer. Everything after that will be downhill, but you'll at least have been to the mountaintop.
Braveheart is playing at the Century Park 16 (620-0750) and El Dorado (745-6241) cinemas.
Cutline: Epic proportions: Mel Gibson and Sophie Marceau star as William Wallace and Princess Isabel in Braveheart, a brave attempt from a jaded Hollywood.
| © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth