Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 57 Minutes

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A+

You can usually tell a good Mel Gibson movie. It usually involves Mel being tortured and thrashed and beaten at some point. Using this criteria: "Braveheart" is the ultimate Mel Gibson movie.

Another thing that most Mel movies involve is the death of a loved one. Well, this one has that too. Mel is a peaceful farmer shortly after the movie begins. His father and brother were killed by English troops when he was but a mere boy and he went to live with his uncle, who taught him different languages and showed him many different parts of the world. He has now returned to Scotland to find that, if anything, the fighting has only gotten worse. But William Wallace (Mel) has no desire to follow in the footsteps of his father.

"I came back to raise crops and, God willing, a family. If I can live in peace, I will." William soon finds peace and a family in Murron (Catherine McCormack), a beautiful girl he has loved since they were both children. He marries her and experiences happiness...for a time.
This time is all too brief, however. The British, curious to see if William will stir up as much trouble as his father, tempt him into a trap by killing his wife. William then shows that he will not stir up as much trouble as his father. Instead, he stirs up a hell of a lot more. He and some other commoners annihilate the British garrison in a rousing and harrowing sequence. From here, Wallace gains followers. He also gains a much grander mission than plain and simple revenge.

"Braveheart" is an old-fashioned film in all the best senses of the phrase. It deals with grand ideas: freedom, honor, nobility, and makes all of them unbelievably fresh. It also has a broad enough canvas to give these ideas their due. I was not prepared for how refreshing it would be to see thousands of extras in blue face makeup fighting with swords. Or to see a thousand men mooning the opposing side in a battle, for that matter. (Now THAT is a sight to see). The scope of this movie is the main reason I have for recommending it. It's marvelous, and amazing. I still watch some of the events of this film and wonder how they were done. For example, how do you fake raining arrows into a crowd of troops? I'm still scratching my head over it.

But even the smaller scenes in this movie work in an exhilarating fashion. The relationships in this movie are riveting, particularly the scenes between a young noble (Robert the Bruce, played very well by Angus McFayden) and Wallace. Their relationship, I believe, is the heart of the movie, even though the movie contains two separate (and equally powerful and affecting) romances. Wallace is a man who knows the right thing most of the time and does everything in his power to make sure that it is done. Robert is a man who is still searching his heart for the right thing to do and overcoming great opposition in order to follow his heart. There is a scene on a battlefield between the two of them that is nothing short of heartbreaking.

There are many scenes that are heartbreaking in this film, in fact. Watching this movie again on DVD recently, I was struck again by the sheer power of this film. The battle sequences are filled with an adrenaline and brutality that is unlike anything that has come before it (and since has only been matched by the beginning of "Saving Private Ryan"). There is a rush to the battles here, and also a lack of the confusion that mars such scenes in other such films. But even beyond the battlefield there is a power here. The movie flows effortlessly to its conclusion, bewitching you and spellbinding you so completely that you barely notice you have been watching for three hours until the final credits roll. And Mel is to thank for a great deal of it. His direction is great. He has taken a story that easily could have degenerated into confusion and had a "been here, done that, seen 'Spartacus'" feel to it and made something new. His acting is awesome. Mel barely even needs to speak during the course of this movie. His face conveys just about everything you need to know. As does the fine work of Angus McFadyen as Robert the Bruce. The music and the editing are also quite noteworthy, adding immensely to the effectiveness of the whole affair. Not to mention the structure of the screenplay. Hell, the costumes and makeup are worth noting. I loved the muddy, lived-in feel this movie has. This is no costume epic where everyone's costumes look as if they had rented them and were afraid to get them dirty. The clothes here, even those of the nobles, look like they could use a good washing. In short: they look real.

Faults? All I can think of is the fact that the English are portrayed maybe just a little too evilly. But this story is not about them. It's about the men who fought them. It's from their viewpoint. The English may very well have been swell dudes in real life. But it's a bit hard to see that from where the Scots are standing.

"Braveheart" is worthy of every award it was given. It is a towering achievement, especially coming from a second-time director. Powerful, moving, visually stunning and brutal.