- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Paramount
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
ong before the DUI, the sexist comments, and all the religious controversy surrounding “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson was at the top of his game. He was so high up on the Hollywood food chain, in fact, that he could afford to direct a movie about a 13th century Scottish hero that most people had never even heard of. It might have sounded like a risk at the time, but “Braveheart” went on to be nominated for ten Academy Awards, and won five of them, including Best Picture and Best Director. Though it’s probably one of the least popular winners in recent memory, “Braveheart” remains a personal favorite for its sprawling battle sequences and breathtaking scenery.
The movie opens in 1277 when a young William Wallace’s father and brother are killed in battle with the English. After going off with his uncle on a pilgrimage around Europe, an adult Wallace (now played by Gibson) returns to the village he grew up in to discover it under the command of their Southern neighbors. Trying to make the best of the situation as a humble farmer, Wallace strikes up a courtship with the beautiful Murron (Catherine McCormack), only to see her murdered by the English magistrate in charge. Enraged by her death, Wallace and his fellow villagers – including best friend Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) and his father Campbell (James Cosmo) – revolt against the English and earn the support of their fellow countrymen as they make their way to England to fight for their freedom.
Anyone with access to a history book knows that William Wallace was eventually captured and executed at the Tower of London in 1305, but while he never did live to see Scotland regain its independence, his rebellion served as the catalyst to the country’s eventual separation from England nine years later. That doesn’t mean that “Braveheart” can be held up as historical fact, but Gibson hits all of the important notes while still taking the kind of liberties that ultimately make the story more appealing to a mainstream audience. After all, at nearly three hours long, “Braveheart” could have easily been a colossal bore, but Gibson injects the film with plenty of colorful characters and testosterone-fueled battle scenes to complement the story of Wallace’s journey.
Mel Gibson has never been one of my favorite actors, but he delivers one of his finest performances as the famous Scottish hero. While many would argue that “Braveheart” is little more than a vanity project to highlight his talents (much in the same way as Kevin Costner’s hugely overrated “Dances with Wolves”), Gibson seems more concerned with delivering a great movie than stroking his own ego. Plus, while he’s certainly good in the lead role, he’s hardly the best thing about the film. Brendan Gleeson, a relative unknown back in 1995, steals every scene he's in as Wallace's second-in-command; Patrick McGoohan oozes pure evil as the diabolical King Edward I; Angus Macfayden plays the conflicted Robert the Bruce with great intensity; and David O’Hara is an absolute riot as a loony Irish fighter who joins up with Wallace's army.
It’s no big secret that “Braveheart” has become a favorite among male moviegoers over the years. The film’s bloody battle sequences (some of the best in the genre) are likely responsible for that, but the movie has so much more to offer, including a pair of sweet love stories, an invigorating tale of national pride, and John Toll’s stunning photography of the Scottish Highlands. It’s a sweeping epic that ranks right up there with the all-time greats, and it makes other historical films like “300” look like child’s play in comparison.
Sapphire Series Blu-Ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of “Braveheart” marks the debut of Paramount’s new Sapphire Series premium label, and they couldn’t have picked a better film to kick it off. Along with a gorgeous 1080p video transfer and a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack, the two-disc set features an audio commentary with actor/director Mel Gibson and a 60-minute retrospective on the making of the film (“Braveheart: A Look Back”) with new interviews from Brendan Gleeson, David O’Hara, James Cosmo, and various crew members. Also included is a discussion with Randall Wallace about writing the screenplay (“A Writer’s Journey”), a documentary on the life of William Wallace ("Tales of William Wallace"), visual recreations of the battles at Bannockburn and Falkirk (“Battlefields of the Scottish Rebellion”), and three separate timelines for the real William Wallace, the fictional account portrayed in the film, and the film's production.