Braveheart is the dark-green, brutal, and very long saga of William Wallace (Mel Gibson), the 13th-century Scottish revolutionary who fought to take his land and his people back from the British. This is the second film of 1995 (after the oafish Rob Roy) to illustrate how mean the Brits were to the Scots, and for three hours, punctuated by ferocious battle sequences and shopworn romance, that’s all Braveheart is about. This movie and Rob Roy were filmed independently of each other, so it’s a troubling coincidence that both films do a fair amount of gay-bashing — literally, in this case, when the effete lover of the prince is chucked out a high window for a cheap audience laugh.
Touches like that tend to invalidate Braveheart‘s dedication to the oppressed, but somehow I doubt that Gibson, who is also the director, cares overmuch. He’s too busy turning himself into a blue-faced warrior-martyr, and in the last reel, when Wallace stoically endures torture after torture, the movie’s masochism level gets abnormally high. (Gibson certainly loves to be tortured in movies — is he trying to prove he can take it like a man?) Braveheart is supposed to be about Wallace’s struggles for his people, yet nobody is allowed to hold the screen except Gibson; the Scots are a noisy, blurry rabble in the background. Gibson also gives himself two leading ladies (Catherine McCormack and Sophie Marceau), who are pretty but forgettable. And did I mention that Braveheart is very long? Gibson has no feel for the complexity, the imagery, or, above all, the rich characterization of a true epic. The movie is like a relentless three-part miniseries. I kept wanting to fast-forward to the battle scenes, which do pack a wallop (Gibson stages them like a kid playing with toy soldiers) but are so revved-up and macho that they’re rather revealing. Is Mel Gibson that self-conscious about wearing a kilt? Why doesn’t he just come on before the opening credits, present his heterosexual credentials by showing us a photo of his wife and six kids, and be done with it?