1995 was probably one of the weirdest years in the race for Best Picture. Somehow, Sense and Sensibility and Apollo 13 failed to receive nominations for Best Director, making Mel Gibson and his historic epic about William Wallace’s fight for Scottish Independence the only real possible choice (Academy members surely wouldn’t vote for a movie about a talking pig). Since then, Braveheart usually tops a lot of lists concerning themselves with the worst winners ever and Mel Gibson’s off-screen personality in the last years surely doesn’t help the legacy of his big winner. Personally, whenever I watch Braveheart, I always expect to hate it tremendously but I constantly end up thinking ‘Well, it’s not great but it’s not that bad either’.
On the plus side, Braveheart features a cast that maybe isn’t too praiseworthy but ever member still does the best he/she can with their material. Mel Gibson may not be a great actor, but, like Charlton Heston, he knows how to carry a movie like this. Patrick McGoohan is a nice addition as the psychopathic King of Britain and both Sophia Marceau and Catharine McCormack add some dignity to the whole proceedings with their lively and emotional performances.
Of course, Braveheart isn’t perfect. Even though Mel Gibson is a gifted storyteller, he still lacks various talents for presenting a scene whenever it doesn’t feature the detachment of body parts. As I mentioned, all the stereotypes might not really bother in the flow of the story, but they are still almost shocking once the movie is over. Mel Gibson’s universe only knows black and white, good people or bad people and if they are bad, they are REALLY bad. Then there’s the infamous scene of the King throwing the lover of his son out of the window – which apparently was always a popular moment with the average cinema audience. Personally, I surprisingly didn’t consider it to be that insulting since the King is obviously more crazy than homophobic but, considering Mel Gibson’s own attitude, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The fight scenes are obviously the highlight of the movie and it’s nice to see a movie that gives you the feeling that actual people are running along on the screen instead of CGI-creations (but the cuts between the two armies running towards each other made me laugh out loud since it took them for what feels like 1 hour to finally reach each other). But the fight scenes also represent the general problem of Braveheart – everything somehow works as long as you don’t think too much about it. The fight scenes are definitely impressive but it’s never clear what Mel Gibson wants to express – there isn’t a single moment in Braveheart in which he proclaims ‘war is hell’ but he obviously sees the necessity of war but one can’t help but feel that the constant display of killing, of blood, of axes being hit in somebody’s head wants to glorify violence more than anything else.
Overall, it always surprises me to put Braveheart this high in my ranking but it manages to entertain and impress various times while covering its flaws quite nicely.