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BRAVEHEART

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 27, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mel Gibson’s three-hour epic ‘Braveheart’ was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture and Best Director, and though I was not quite as taken with the film as were many critics, I understand why the film nonetheless remains a fan favorite some 25 years later. Now it’s coming back to the big screen for two days, courtesy of Fathom Events, on Sunday, March 22, at 2 p.m., and Monday, March 23, at 7 p.m. in selected Cinemark and Megaplex theaters. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 24, 1995, and note my comment about its budget; in today’s dollars, $70 million is about $120 million.

Mel Gibson the actor does pretty well in "Braveheart," though one wonders if a more focused director could have pulled a performance from him that would have given the central character a bit more heft.

And Mel Gibson the director vindicates himself with ferocious, complex battle scenes involving hundreds of extras while managing to tell the intimate story of one man whose name is still revered in Scottish history. (Let's remember that he has only directed one other film, the small drama "The Man Without a Face.")

But Mel Gibson the co-producer seems to have been unable to keep his director and star's ego in check. With its slow-motion sequences, an emphasis on bloody gore and an unwieldy three-hour running time, "Braveheart" just hints at what it might have been. In fact, it's fair to say that a terrific two-hour movie could probably be found somewhere in this three-hour epic.

     

Mel Gibson and Catherine McCormack on the set of 'Braveheart' (1995).

Keeping his focus on his real-life central character, Scottish knight William Wallace, whom he also plays, Gibson has made a valiant effort to make this medieval adventure authentic, faithful to its time in terms of sensibility and physicality. The characters are filthy and crude, the fight scenes are up close and personal, and the politics are simplistic and often duplicitous.

But there are times when, instead of feeling as if they are being pulled into the story, audience members may feel pushed away. The level of violence, in particular, is up there with the slasher-horror genre, which may keep even Gibson's most ardent fans from wanting a second helping in weeks down the road. (And repeat viewings are essential to the profit margin of a film this size, reportedly budgeted at $70 million.)

An educated man, unlike the peasants who surround him, Wallace is a Scotsman through and through, and when the king of England (Patrick McGoohan) seizes the Scottish throne and begins to impose impossible demands on the people, Wallace is asked to join a rebellion. But he declines.

Later, however, after he romances and marries his lifelong love Murron (Catherine McCormack), a tragedy occurs that changes his mind as he leads his people into battle against the English.

     

The sheer logistics of the battle scenes must have been a tremendous obstacle, and Gibson is to be commended for making the military strategy understandable and the violence unpleasant (as opposed to the cheerful violence in the "Lethal Weapon" movies). But in achieving the latter, Gibson has boosted the gore factor to an over-the-top degree. Making the audience flinch this much seems unnecessary, and Gibson ups the ante as the film progresses.

There are also too many scenes that seem redundant, repeatedly making a point that has already been made — as if Gibson just couldn't bear to throw anything out and refused to listen to cooler heads on the subject.

The performances here are all quite good and McGoohan makes an unexpectedly terrific nasty villain. The cinematography takes advantage of the locations (the film was shot in Scotland and Ireland), James Horner's music is appropriately enthralling and the character of Wallace is a compelling one.

But there is the nagging feeling as one leaves the theater that less is definitely more, and with a bit of restraint Gibson might have had a great movie here instead of merely a pretty good one.

"Braveheart" is rated R for considerable violence and gore, a rape scene, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity.