Customer Review

26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blood, bravery & idealism in an epic fist punch to your gut., 24 Aug 2006
This review is from: Braveheart (2 Disc Digitally Remastered Special Edition) [1995] [DVD] (DVD)
On a whole number of levels, this movie shouldn't have worked for me. It takes considerable license with historical facts, not only in order to supplement details that are not part of William Wallace's legend but actually, wherever convenient. ("We stuck to history where we could but hyped it up where the legend let us," actor-director Mel Gibson admits on the DVD's commentary track.) It is graphically and unabashedly violent: from throatcuttings to battle scenes that have film blood literally splashing onto the camera, beheadings, a traitor's head smashed with a wrecking ball, and fully 15 minutes of Wallace's "purification by pain," it shows some of the most brutal behavior conceivable. It also engages in some of the most blatant gay profiling in recent film history - not just in the drastic end administered on the lover of Longshanks's son, Edward II., but equally in the portrayal of both characters and their relationship as such. Last but not least, Mel Gibson plays a man at least 10 years younger than himself, a choice often enough bordering on the ridiculous.

And yet ...

From the first notes of James Horner's hauntingly beautiful soundtrack and the first sweeping camera shots over the Scottish highlands, blending seamlessly into the pictures of the Scottish riders on their way to the alleged truce talks initiated by Edward I. "Longshanks," and the narrator's, Robert the Bruce's (Angus MacFadyen's) introduction - "I shall tell you about William Wallace: Historians from England will call me a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes" - there is no mistaking that this is an epic story, taking up the tradition of the likes of "Spartacus" and "Ben Hur." Like those movies, "Braveheart" is a story of heroism and of having the courage of one's convictions; chronicling the life of its hero from first love to loss, betrayal, battles and final confrontation with his arch-enemy's powers. Like both movies, "Braveheart" won the Academy Award in more than one category, not least for John Toll's outstanding cinematography. Like "Ben Hur," it also won both the coveted awards for "Best Picture" and for "Best Director." And maybe I'm just a sucker for that kind of epos ...

To my surprise, I found Mel Gibson to come across very believable as William Wallace; age difference, Scottish brogue and all. Both his acting and his direction are informed by a clear sense of vision for the movie and its title character. Moreover, although full screen writing credits went to would-be (?) Wallace descendant Randall W., many little details undeniably show Gibson's hand and mannerisms: to name just a few of the more obvious examples, Wallace's marriage proposal to Murron, his grinning greeting of a group of English soldiers trapped below a cliff, and his response to a doubting Scottish soldier's comment at Sterling that he can't really be Wallace because he's not tall enough.

In addition to John Toll's awardwinning cinematography, the movie benefits from first-rate production design (Tom Sanders), a score which perfectly captures the mood of every single scene, and a cast of outstanding actors; first and foremost Patrick McGoohan as Longshanks, who portrays the king's utter ruthlessness so convincingly as to make you completely forget his earlier incarnation as the 1960s' "Danger Man," and who delivers monologues worthy of a Shakespearean king. Soliloquies like his musing "but whom shall I send" when plotting to send a messenger to Wallace with another insincere offer of truce, and his chilling announcement to reinstitute the ius primae noctae because "the trouble with Scotland is that it is full of Scots ... If we can't get them out, we'll breed them out" are starkly reminiscent of both Ian McKellen's and Laurence Olivier's portrayals of Richard III.

Equally impressive is Ian Bannen in one of his last roles, starring as Robert the Bruce's leprosy-ridden father and evil spirit, whose first reaction to the tales about Wallace is to deride him ("He has courage; so does a dog"), and who expertly plays on his son's ambivalent feelings, until he finally drives Robert into hating his father for having coaxed him into his own game of scheming and betrayal - whereupon the elder Bruce remarks contemptuously: "At last you have learned what it means to hate. Now you are ready to be a king."

Then-newcomer Catherine McCormack stars as Wallace's childhood love Murron, whose scenes with Wallace provide for much-needed tenderness in the first hour of the movie - particularly touching is four year old Murron's gift of a thistle (Scotland's national flower) to orphaned William - and contrast sharply with the bloodshed that is to follow virtually incessantly from her death onwards. Sophie Marceau matures from teenage party queen ("La Boum") to French Princess Isabelle; Brendan Gleeson stars as Wallace's boyhood friend Hamish, David O'Hara as his heaven-conversing, self-appointed Irish guardian Stephen - one of the movie's most colorful characters - and Brian Cox brings all his extraordinary screen presence to his brief appearance as Wallace's uncle Argyle.

When I left the theater after having witnessed this movie's almost three hours of blood, gore and intense emotions for the first time, I felt as if somebody had given me a fist punch into my stomach. I was so struck that I was almost unable to speak, and dragged my moviegoing companion into the next bar, to revive my spirits with a glass of whiskey. (Scotch, of course). Having seen the film countless times since then, I no longer need that whiskey to overcome its drastic impact - but I still get gooseflesh during many of its key scenes and can't see it without feeling emotionally drained at the end.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Nov 2008 15:17:41 GMT
P. Ruffle says:
One of the best reviews I have read on Amazon.

Thank You

Posted on 16 Sep 2009 09:06:47 BDT
gaz says:
great review , almost captures the film too a tee , watched it many ,many times myself

Posted on 26 Dec 2009 19:53:40 GMT
W Donald says:
I'm Scottish and live in Scotland and felt you hit the nail on the head with your review. Fair and well thought through. Above all else I thought the film captured the spirit of Wallace Wallace.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Apr 2010 15:54:02 BDT
SJ Watt says:
But unfortunately all the scenes mentioned in the review were totally invented and never actually occurred - the whole movie was a fairy story!

Posted on 16 Apr 2010 21:30:39 BDT
Observer says:
The film is a terrible insult to the quality of this review.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Jul 2011 04:01:26 BDT
I. Buchan says:
Let us have your history lesson then and not the fairy story

Posted on 5 Jan 2012 14:15:47 GMT
J Blakemore says:
Not a helpful review as it totally really ignores the historical facts - as did Gibson, a known detester of the English...

Posted on 16 Feb 2012 23:07:46 GMT
Barry Lees says:
That would have been whisky, then (not 'whiskey').

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Mar 2013 07:18:50 GMT
Mike Heron says:
Great comment.
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