The Best Picture Project – Braveheart (1995)

Directed by Mel Gibson

Screenplay by Randall Wallace

Starring Mel Gibson, Brendan Gleeson, Patrick McGoohan and Sophie Marceau

Most of you know by now – at least my few, regular, cherished readers do – that I’ve been doing the Best Picture Project on and off for an ungodly number of years.  To fill the space between those posts I’ve put in lists, product placements, and anything else I could think of.  If I didn’t, months might pass between some of the posts in that series.  Well, to be more regular with the posting, I started up a series called Terse Book Reviews.  Obviously, these are what they are called – Terse Book Reviews.

While I’ve enjoyed the new feature I find it a little bit of an unruly child, always demanding attention in that, when I sit down to draft a post for the Best Picture Project, the Terse Book Reviews wants to have a say about how things are written.  Braveheart being the first installment of the BPP to come after the establishment of the TBR series, naturally, it’s the test case.

If I was writing a Terse Movie Review of Braveheart, it would go something like this: Long, dull and muddy.  Except for the English and French.  And for some reason, Mel Gibson’s hair.

Unfortunately, this is not a Terse Movie Review, this is the Best Picture Project, so I obviously need a little more than that.

Without a doubt, 1995 was one of the most scattershot years in the history of the Academy Awards.  Unlike many years, where one or two, or maybe even three, films stood above the others and could make a compelling argument for winning Best Picture, 1995 had as many as ten that could make a case.  There were the Best Picture nominees, Apollo 13, Babe and Sense and Sensibility.  Nominated in other categories but still worthy were Dead Man Walking, Casino, The Usual Suspects, 12 Monkeys, Seven and Toy Story.  There were even nominations for Nixon.  Some of them might not be your cup of tea, and are definitely flawed, but for my money, I’d take any of those films over the film that did win, Braveheart, which to me was only the fourth best of the nominated films, beating out only the sentimental nominee, Il Postino.

In all honestly, I never bought into the cult of Braveheart.  I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now.  Yes, I like the bagpipes as much as anybody, and really dig that Scottish music that became real popular at the time.  But aside from some Scottish music here and there in the film, it and it’s ‘message’ just never struck a chord with me.  Sure, I like freedom as much as the next guy, so I get that.  And I think the British at that time were probably a bit on the abhorrent side – all colonial powers tended to be real pricks.  But I could just never get passed the fact that Mel seemed to be playing that same character he usually plays making the film seem a bit like Sensitive Lethal Weapon.  Or, that he seemed too old, and pretty and clean for the part of William Wallace.  Or that the film was way too long, and tedious, and dull.  Or that it was more melodramatic and overwrought and heavy-handed than a soap-opera.  Or that I’m really not overly interested in the history of political relations between Scotland and Endland.  Or…or that it had really had nothing else to offer other than Mel Gibson shouting freedom while being tortured.  In other words, I suppose everything about it that charmed other’s just left me cold and indifferent.

Surprisingly, the one flaw that most people point out of the film – historical inaccuracy – is the one I could care less about.  After all, when I watch a movie – especially a non-documentary film – I don’t require complete historical fidelity as a prerequisite to enjoyment.  I don’t even necessarily have to politically agree with the film to enjoy it.  I mean, I love Gone With The Wind, but when you think about it, it’s a pretty despicable film, what with the way it downplays how awful slavery was and how noble – mostly – the slave-owners were.  No, I require dramatic tension and momentum.  After all, unless I’m watching a documentary, or a non-fiction film, it has to work dramatically first, dramatically second, and dramatically third, and then, if there’s time, as history.

Looking back on the film through nearly 20 years of time I still dislike the film as always, though now for additional reasons, largely because it’s hard to separate the film of Braveheart, from the man of Mel Gibson.  After all, while he was once the brightest star in the Hollywood universe, now he’s little more than a racist, sexist, right-wing anti-Semite who’s known more as tabloid fodder than for producing good work.  As the filmmaker Mel Gibson has used the cinema to push his own personal agenda and it’s hard not to read this film as being of that same piece and completely tainted as a result.  Deep in my heart I truly believe that, if the Academy could pick one Oscar to revoke, it would be Emil Jannings, winner of the first Oscar for Best Actor – after all, the man spent World War II proudly making Nazi propaganda films.  But if the Academy could pick two to revoke, they’d take back Mel Gibson’s, first because Braveheart isn’t very good and second, because Gibson is a nutball.

Given my choice, The Usual Suspects would’ve cleaned up at the Oscars and been Best Picture.  It was just the kind of crafty, twisty mystery that demands repeated viewings and reveals a little bit more of itself each time it’s seen.  Alas, it didn’t rate a Best Picture now.  So, if I had to stick to only those films in the top bracket, then obviously I’d choose Babe, because it’s charming and, come on, who doesn’t love a good underdog story?

A Note:

A happy post-script to this story was my VCR ate my copy of Braveheart – yes I still have a VCR and yes still have a few tapes kicking around.  Fortunately, Braveheart was not part of my collection – I don’t really like it, so of course I don’t have it – I only had it because I spotted a VHS copy when scouring a Goodwill for finds.  Since I only paid $0.99 for it, I wasn’t upset I lost it.

Additional Words:

I’m not the only one who hates the film.

For other entries in the Best Picture Project, please go here.

To be a pal and buy my books, jump over here and have a look.  I promise, buying always makes you feel good.

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