While Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning 1995 Braveheart may take its story from legendary Scot rebel William Wallace, it's far from historical drama. But then again, very little historical information exists about Wallace, except that he mounted an army of defiant Scots and ran roughshod over the English during the Scottish uprising of 1296-1305 before being captured by the brutal King Edward I (a.k.a. Edward the Longshanks) and executed for his seditious crimes. But even if the majority of Wallace's history largely comes from oral traditions, that's certainly no reason not to mount an epic film, and in Braveheart Gibson decides on a very contemporary theme individual freedom, what it's worth, and the price some people pay for it (certainly a more poetic concept than such commonplace political notions as home rule or local control, which Wallace probably was demanding from the English in the first place, and which Scotland and Wales still bemoan today). Scenarist Randall Wallace buoys his three-hour tale from one emotionally charged scene to the next, as the young Wallace must deal with the violent death of his father, the loss of his wife to brutal English soldiers, and the mounting of a rag-tag but effective army, which forces him to negotiate not only with the English monarchy but also with various Scottish gentry, including Robert the Bruce (Angus MacFadyen), who counsels Wallace that a political solution is the only way Scotland can move towards a more autonomous future. And while there is an element of political skullduggery towards the latter half of the film, Gibson's Wallace remains free of it fighting the good fight is his raison de etre, and ultimately more important than his own personal survival. There are only a few weak parts of Braveheart, and while many critics have commented that it lags in moments, some of that simply is because the marvelous battle scenes are so effective that the remainder of the film can barely compete. The reliable Patrick McGoohan portrays Longshanks, but there is something almost cartoonish about his villainy, as if he rules not to fortify his power but merely to inflict suffering on others for his own personal amusement (in fact, while ruthless, Edward I is regarded as a pious man committed as much to the Holy Crusades as his native land, and he probably was no more bloodthirsty than any other effective king). The delicate Prince of Wales (Peter Hanly), who would become Edward II, is given the proper historical context (yep, he was gay), but again his simpering manner and hysterical rejection of his wife does nothing to flesh out the milieu of these early Plantagenet kings any more than Gibson and scenarist Wallace grant their protagonist any real depth of character. But Braveheart isn't The Godfather, it's a rousing, inspiriational story and marvelous entertainment. There are few films made anymore that boast scores of extras, all of which are apparent in Gibson's bloody, magnificent battle sequences. In fact, there probably never has been better battle scenes committed to film with the amount of horses seen here the way Gibson has countless steeds fly to the ground under assault, nearly crushing men underfoot as they let out cries of pain, is terrifying and a testament to the director's devotion to his craft. Paramount's DVD edition of Braveheart features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), with audio in DD 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Informative commentary with Gibson, 28-minute "making-of" doc, two trailers. Keep-case.
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