Braveheart (1995)
Directed by Mel Gibson

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* *

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Though William Wallace (Mel Gibson), a Scottish commoner living during England's domination of Scotland in the late Thirteenth and early Fourteenth Centuries, is, at first, unwilling to fight against those oppressing his country, he is eventually driven to conflict by the countless crimes committed by the morally depraved, bloodthirsty English. Having so taken up arms and rebelled against Scotland's enemies, the brave, decent, virile young Wallace quickly becomes a great hero.

Mel Gibson's Braveheart is an overwrought, silly, hackneyed cartoon. Throughout the movie's duration, the director makes continuous and exclusive use of stereotyped, manipulative tricks in his vain efforts to evoke sympathy, horror, love, or whatever other emotion he is attempting to arouse. His characters are just as crudely and predictably realized. Good men are brave, honest, and very, very macho. Evil men are cruel, dishonest, and frequently sickly, deformed, or effete. Edward I of England, against whom Wallace's struggle is directed, is one of the most overdone antagonists I have ever encountered. He is the epitome of evil and is so utterly vile that he is actually quite funny to watch. I frequently found myself amused by behavior that was surely intended to be horrifying. Even the twisted henchmen of this comic book supervillain are ridiculously brutal and fiendish.

Sadly, the film has even more faults than these. I do not demand that a work of art depicting some historical period be accurate. I am, nevertheless, bothered when a movie presents itself as historically accurate when it is not. Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is set in the time of Maria Theresa but depicts a world that in no way resembles hers. The film is not, however, presented as a realistic portrayal of an historical era. If I am to submerge myself in an historical film, losing myself in another time, I do not want to be rudely thrust from that time by silly anachronisms, and Braveheart is awash in such anachronisms. Gibson's Wallace, for instance, is a missionary of personal freedom and national self-determination hundreds of years before anyone had thought of such ideas.

Moreover, the events portrayed in the film have little connection with those of the historical Wallace's life, although this would not have been troubling had Gibson altered history so as to improve upon the story's dramatic effect. Instead, he changes events so that they more closely conform to expectations of what a standard Hollywood hero should do. The list of such irritating faults goes on and on.

Braveheart's production values are, I will concede, high and the film is technically well made. The battle sequences are violent and vast. The acting is generally competent or, at least, as good as the material allows. The movie is, however, so trite and ludicrous that it is never engaging.

Review by Keith Allen

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