Movie Review: Braveheart
Length: 177 minutes
Release Date: May 26, 1995
Directed by: Mel Gibson
Genre: Historical Drama, Action, and Adventure
Stars: 4 out of 5
At first, "Braveheart" may seem to be anything but a box-office hit. First, the movie is rather long, just three minutes shy of three hours. The subject is also quite heavy: a man's quest for freedom, not only for himself but also for his countrymen. The setting of the movie in 13th-century Scotland does not seem to help either. For those who have not seen the movie, it may seem that watching it is like sitting through a three-hour documentary on the rebellion of the Scots against England. How did "Braveheart" manage to grab the viewers' attention and keep the audience glued to their seats?
The film's producer and director Mel Gibson pulls it off marvelously by combining the ingredients of an old-fashioned movie epic-heroism, tragic romance, and forbidden love. Add in a cast of hundreds, gorgeous cinematography, and a dash of intrigue (Wallace's affair with Isabella and Edward II's homosexual affairs), and the result is a classic of mythic proportions. Mel Gibson's Oscar trophy for best director is well deserved.
The movie introduces William Wallace (Mel Gibson) as a boy (played by James Robinson) who is adopted by his uncle just after young William has lost his father and his brother in a battle against the English tyrant, Edward Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan). He comes back twenty years later as an educated man, schooled in the classics and in the art of war. He falls in love with his childhood sweetheart Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack) and secretly marries her so that she can avoid becoming a victim of a barbaric law known as "Jus Primae Noctis," which grants noblemen the right to sleep with Scottish brides on their wedding night.
Their romance takes a tragic turn when an English soldier tries to rape Murron, who wards off her attacker by biting his cheek. Wallace rescues her, and the lovers try to flee, but the soldiers capture Murron, who is then accused of assaulting a soldier. Murron is executed publicly by having her throat slit as the sheriff proclaims that an assault on the king's soldiers is the same as an assault on the king himself.
The grieving Wallace rebels against the English and gathers a little army, with which he wins the battle at Sirling and destroys the city of York. As Wallace's fame spreads far and wide, a multitude of Scots from the surrounding clans join him. He also seeks the alliance of Robert the Bruce, a contender for the Scottish crown. Concerned about the growing rebellion among the Scots, Longshanks sends his daughter-in-law, Princess Isabella (Sophie Marceau), to negotiate with Wallace. However, the French princess soon finds herself enamored with the Scottish rebel and becomes his secret ally instead.
Longshanks invades Scotland and confronts Wallace and his army at the Battle of Falkirk. Noblemen Lochlan and Mornay betray Wallace, who is wounded in the battle, and the Scots are defeated. Robert the Bruce changes his mind at the last moment and helps Wallace escape before the English can capture him. Wallace exacts revenge on Lochlan and Mornay for their betrayal. Robert the Bruce's father, a nobleman himself, later betrays Wallace and hands him over to the English. Wallace is tried for high treason before an English magistrate and is condemned to die.
Mel Gibson plays the role of Wallace with flamboyance and cunning, irreverent humor. Under Gibson's skin, Wallace becomes a likable character, a heartthrob even, especially when he woos Murron. However, he is also capable of slitting the throat of his wife's murderer, bashing the head of his betrayer, and running his sword through his enemies. His heroism and messianic zeal never fails to inspire. The blue face paint can be a little distracting, however. Mud and grime would have been enough to make Wallace look fierce and fearsome.
The rest of the cast deliver strong performances. Patrick McGoohan is the amoral, villainous king, Longshanks. The king's villainy is palpable especially in the scene where he pushes his son's gay lover out the window with such casual cold-bloodedness. Both Catherine McCormack and Sophie Marceau are outstanding in their roles as the women in Wallace's life.
"Braveheart" is not without its flaws. Some critics feel that the movie is too long or that its battle scenes are too many, which diminishes the grandeur of battle in this movie. With its graphic, violent scenes, the movie is for those who have guts of steel. However, the repeated exposure to gore leaves the viewer numbed after a while. For some, though, the gory scenes add excitement and make sitting through a three-hour historical drama worthwhile.
The movie also has a number of historical inaccuracies. For example, no conclusive evidence exists that the sickening law, Jus Primae Noctis, was ever in place. Isabelle of France never really met William Wallace, and the Scots did not paint their faces for battle. These are just a few of the noteworthy historical inaccuracies in the movie. However, these fictional elements do not devalue the film in the slightest; on the contrary, they add to the film's entertainment value.
Despite its little flaws, "Braveheart" is a remarkable cinematic achievement. The movie has earned its place among the classics, and generations of romantics will surely enjoy this film.