MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Epic Historical Fiction War/ Stars: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Angus Macfadyen, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, Mhairi Calvey, Brendan Gleeson, Andrew Weir, Peter Hanly, James Cosmo, David O’Hara, Ian Bannen, Seán McGinley, Brian Cox, Sean Lawlor, Sandy Nelson, Stephen Billington, John Kavanagh, Alun Armstrong, John Murtagh, Tommy Flanagan, Donal Gibson, Jeanne Marine, Michael Byrne, Malcolm Tierney, Bernard Horsfall, Peter Mullan, Gerard McSorley, Richard Leaf, Mark Lees, Tam White, Jimmy Chisholm, David Gant, James Robinson/ Runtime: 178 minutes
I think it is safe to say that some of the finest examples of film as an art medium have been the ones which were able to showcase both genuine meaning and undeniable pathos throughout their narratives. Yet although this does sound like something that should be easy to pull off, the fact still remains that there have been way too many times to mention where a movie-viewing audience has been hit over the head with a slice of cinematic pie that had the potential to be something completely amazing, but instead choose to not be so bold and instead rely on the safety nets of effects work, action beats, or familiar faces to present something that on the surface looks attractive, but is actually a black hole that is void of any significance or meaning whatsoever. Not just for the characters taking part in the whole ordeal mind you, but also for the audience who either quickly loses interest or begins checking their watch at about the half way mark if not sooner. Thus it truly is uncommon to witness a slice of cinematic pie arrive that not only actually has a working heart and soul, but grounds both in a film that manages to completely rivet an audience with realistic and top-notch performances, action that is both brutal and with purpose, and absolutely magnificent technical ingredients that manage to strengthen and not override the core of the movie. Thankfully I can honestly say that I have found this rare movie viewing experience in the film I am reviewing today, 1995’s Braveheart. Indeed here is a rousing and quite emotionally powerful slice of cinematic pie that takes an in-depth look at not only the cost man is willing to pay to be free, but also how the power of love can overcome any obstacle and together these 2 forces can be quite the storm to deal with whilst at the same time remolding a man into the kind of person that the country he holds dear at a time of chaos needs the most and in the process changing things forever.
The plot is as follows: Braveheart takes us back to a time of great inner turmoil and chaos. It seems that Scotland’s royal patriarch has passed on and there is no prince to take over for him. As such, we see that England’s king, one Edward the Longshanks, has decided to take over and rule Scotland himself. As a result, Edward’s actions soon lead to skirmishes between not only the Crown, but also among the Scots themselves; an action that leads to the death of a man who is father to a young boy by the name of William Wallace. Years pass and we soon see that our intrepid hero William has grown up and become quite the handsome, decent, and integrity-filled man who wants nothing to do with politics and would much rather enjoy the simple life and raise a family with his childhood lady love Murron MacClannough. To that end, we see the two decide to get married in secret due to the recent passing of a “prima nocte” decree by the Royal family. Unfortunately their happiness is short-lived when a way too passionate English soldier attempts to have his way with Murron and, despite Wallace initially saving her, she is tragically butchered to serve as an example and a cautionary note against further intervening against policies of the Royal Crown. To that end, we see a truly infuriated Wallace and a group of the people in his village strike back and, in the process, ignite a powder keg that quickly turns this one skirmish into an all-out conflict for Scottish independence and Wallace becoming a folk hero to his people to say nothing of a truly brilliant leader in combat. Thus we soon witness as time after time Wallace steadfastly denies the bribes sent by the royals in exchange for their false claims of “peace” whilst all the while his revolutionary movement manages to continue to gain more and more followers to the point that it even garners the attention of one Isabelle, up and coming queen to all of England. The question still remains however: will Wallace be the one to lead his people to their freedom or will it be an effort that requires him to die trying? That dear reader I will leave for you to discover for yourself….
Now even though this film fills quite a few different slots- an epic in length and scope, a historical drama, a quite visceral entry in the action genre, and a film that can be quite moving- there is one component that manages to champion the others and in the process come to really define this slice of cinematic pie and all that it encompasses: love. Indeed as odd as that may be, the fact remains that it is that powerful and arguably most potent of the emotional spectrum that manages to craft and construct this film in every way from the characters themselves to the work done behind the camera in bringing this slice of cinematic pie so vividly to life. I mean for starters love is core to the narrative in how it not only defines Wallace’s life, but it also molds how he sees the world so much that when it is stolen from him, he lets out a righteous fury that is representative of the pain that he is feeling. Yes his love for Murron never goes away, but it soon finds a wonderful bedfellow in the form of love of Scotland and love and desire for freedom. Yes Wallace’s campaign is one that is grounded in immense personal loss, but it manages to become one that nearly all of Scotland is willing to rally behind. Indeed by asking to be left to live his life his way and without the ridiculous laws that are a part of life under the Crown which would see the people of the country he holds dear living every day in the pain that he is currently saddled with, the film does an outstanding job of showing Wallace construct a personal set of beliefs that are grounded in a desire for something he knows he can now never possess.
In addition, it should also be noted that Braveheart manages to show that it is easily one of the more intriguing slices of cinematic pie in the last 3-4 decades due in large part to how it possess such a distinct hodgepodge of ingredients that manage to contrast things that are beautiful with things that are downright visceral and brutal. Indeed for as visceral as this film gets, it’s also just as oddly calming as well. Yes this movie doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in constructing the love story that will be absolutely essential to everything that happens in this film, but it is handled with a loving touch that is quite fitting for such a decent and integrity-laced love that only the most coldhearted among you will not be touched by it especially when compared to the union between Longshanks’ son and his bride from France. Now in addition to the romance, this is one slice of cinematic pie that manages to show off the country of Scotland perfectly and even when in the middle of a scene of combat you will find yourself marveling at just how beautiful the landscape is. Indeed it is that beauty and that tranquility that makes it stand as a testament not only to how beautiful the world can be, but also in how it is a land that warrants only peace and prosperity for those who live there as well. Finally it should also be noted that lead actor/ film helmer Mel Gibson has managed to construct this slice of cinematic pie with such a proficient degree of technical skill that it really does make the movie a literal work of art. I mean against the brutal setting of combat lies an everlasting ode to how powerful a film can be when it is done right. To that end, this is one film manages to astonish in just how potent it is especially in regards to helmsmanship and the editing and cinematography departments as well. I mean each shot in this film literally looks flawless and manages to take complete advantage of how this movie is being presented to audiences thus giving this slice of cinematic pie an epic-esque vibe that at no time throws the integrity of the narrative onto a bonfire in order to acquire some form of artistic merit. Rather the art and the narrative manage to work together in perfect synchronicity and as a result give us a genuine masterpiece of cinema that is sure to remain so for years and years to follow.
Now significantly more immersive ingredients from a thematic perspective and phenomenal technical skill aside, it should also be noted that as an entry in the Action genre Braveheart knows all the right moves to make and does so with skill and grace. Indeed the scenes of combat in this film are set up against relevant environments and inhabited by the protagonists and antagonists in such a way that it makes them all the easier to understand just who is who in this iconic battle of good vs. evil. In fact, I will go a step further and say that this slice of cinematic pie actually does an amazing job of portraying its antagonists as downright horrible people thus making it a lot easier to applaud the carnage that ensues during the beginning and middle of the film and downright sob buckets of tears at the end. Indeed it is this emotional response that Mel Gibson wished to draw from those who watched this and while the mood of the movie goes a long way toward making that a reality, he also strengthens it from a visual perspective as well. For example, even though a certain person has their throat viciously fileted open with a knife you do not see a drop of blood. However when vengeance is achieved for that person, and in the same way they died no less, you are given the wound and all the blood flowing from it in all its glory. In the same way, how this movie ends most assuredly does not in any way give you, the viewer the full picture of just what is going on. No it doesn’t hide from you in the slightest that what is going on is actually going on, but at the same time it doesn’t provide you with the usual evidence of such brutality thus raising the pathos ingredients at play and in the process cementing the idea behind the movie’s deliberate border between homicide and justifiable vengeance and willing to achieve freedom no matter what the cost.
All in all, the rightful earner of a quintet of Academy Awards including the coveted trophies for Best Picture and Best Director whilst also coming equipped with a top-flight and riveting score from iconic composer James Horner that is moving, gutsy, and conventional all in equal measure, I think it is safe to claim therefore that the film known as Braveheart really truly is a genuinely iconic slice of cinematic pie across the board. Yes it most certainly is not the most accurate from a history point of view, but boy does it make up for that by being one of the most solid in practically every way films that modern cinema has seen fit to produce in the past 35 years. Indeed coming to you, the viewer with everything from a pacing that is top-notch, performances that are truly second to none, characters that are three-dimensional in all the best ways, riveting moments of action, and a downright emotional heart beating at the center of it all, I think it’s safe to say then that Braveheart is one slice of cinematic pie that rightfully can always be found on the lists drawn up when it comes to what constitutes as the finest movies in modern cinema. On a scale of 1-5 I give Braveheart “95” a solid 4.5 out of 5.