Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Essentials- "Braveheart" (1995)

The Essentials- #38

Braveheart
"I should tell you the story of William Wallace...most people would tell you that I am liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes..."

The story of William Wallace is definitely an interesting one. A common man who stood against tyranny and unfairness of the King Edward I of England. Wallace wasn't a Scottish noble, he did not have a coat of arms, what he did have was brass intelligence which made him quite the asset. As well as the fighting prose to back it up. Wallace became instrumental in the First War of Scottish Independence, and his time as a warrior has left a long-lasting legacy ever since. He's the perfect candidate for a movie, and in 1995, Mel Gibson directed and starred as the legendary figure. 

"Braveheart" is known blue grease paint and for its big talk on freedom. But the film is very sentimental to me. This film has been part of my family's history just as much as film history. I remember it well because it was one of the first R-rated features my dad would let me watch. It was also a big "man-movie" tradition in my household growing up. My dad would rent it frequently, and myself, my brother and my dad would all get together to watch it. My dad had rented it so often that when I finally decided to get it for him for Christmas, my mom asked me to return it because she thought we had owned it already. "Braveheart" is one of those films that I can't imagine not living without.

"Braveheart" isn't just a huge bloodbath, I mean sure, its incredibly bloody, but there's a lot more to it than that. Gibson proved that he had a keen eye behind the camera, a unquestionable talent that can be seen even as the film opens. I love how the camera moves through the beautiful Scottish mountains. I also love the bagpipes, absolutely love the bagpipes. The attention to detail in the costuming, the castles, the small towns and cities, the battles, the language...its all handled in a very specific, very confident, and very detailed way. Sure, the battles are not quite as epic as we've seen in recent years and they're done pretty much before they begin, but their mythic, and the violence is very matter-of-fact. We are not supposed to enjoy the violence, and Gibson expertly shows the disgust and sorrow of battle.

You can say what you want about Mel Gibson and his personal life, but one thing is for sure, he's a hard worker. His work as William Wallace could be argued as the main reason to see the movie. His Scottish accent is spot on, and he is humorous, noble, stern, steadfast, powerful, and sincere all in one masterful performance. I love that Gibson's character is motivated by love, and the romantic story is one of the big linchpins of the movie. The romance works for the film, not against it. Never once does Wallace's romance and eventual marriage to Murron (Catherine McCormack) feel sappy or out-of-place. Murron has been Wallace lifetime crush, a woman Wallace marry's in secret so that English nobles could not "bless" their marriage. When she's taken away from him, he snaps and thus the Scottish rebellion begins. Had Gibson not set us up to care about their relationship, nothing else in the film would have mattered. But Gibson got us to care about them, it really came down to good direction.

Not only are Gibson and McCormack very good in their roles, but the film is full of a wonderful supporting cast. Brendan Gleeson is perfect as Hamish, Wallace's childhood friend who becomes a right-hand man for him during the rebellion. I don't care what anybody says, this the highlight of Gleeson's career, yep I said it. He's so good I feel like I could write an entire review of just Gleeson's performance. I feel like I could write an entire review of all the actors; including Sophie Marceau, James Cosmo, Patrick McGoohan, Angus Macfayden, Brian Cox, Tommy Flanagan, Alun Armstrong and Peter Mullan. These are all actors you'd recognize if you Googled them. (One thing I always loved about the Harry Potter film series is just how many Braveheart alums are featured in it!) All turn out great work that accumulates to "Braveheart"s success. However, I have to single one supporting role out, because he completely steals the show. David O'Hara's portrayal of Stephen, the crazy Irishman who joins Wallace's rebellion is pure action, comedic joy. O'Hara's is an actor who usually plays the "stiff upper-lip," macho-man, serious roles. But he's never really gone so far from his comfort zone like he did in "Braveheart." I honestly wish we could see him do more stuff like this, because he'd absolutely nail it. O'Hara is that great in this, and he's got most of quotable dialogue, an instantly iconic figure.

Yes, its true "Braveheart" isn't very accurate on its history. Edward II was never a homosexual, Wallace did not father Edward III, Edward I never through his son's best friend out of a castle window. But throughout its historical inaccuracies, Gibson was able to tell a story that captivated its audience. Within the overall context of the story, all of Gibson's decisions worked in a big way. So being a history guy myself, I was able to look past the film's inaccuracies and just enjoy the cinema "Braveheart" had to offer.

But, as I have said with many of my favorite films, one of the best things that "Braveheart" has going for it is that there is something for everyone. Women will love the gentile romance that opens the film between Wallace and Murron, men will love the intense battle sequences and clever dialogue. I also think everybody will enjoy the tiny sprinkles of humor throughout the entire movie. I also think everyone will appreciate one of cinema's first modern epics. A movie that was awarded several Oscars back in the mid-1990's. There is quite a bit to enjoy with "Braveheart," and so go and take a look.

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