Braveheart (1995, Mel Gibson)

!!!!! AVOID !!!!!

Actor-turned-director syndrome is a curious disease which yields many awful movies and many awards; Reds, Dances with Wolves, Ordinary People, etc. And Braveheart is among the worst because auteur Mel Gibson is so pushy and condescending as a storyteller, with his sledgehammer here turned toward history to fit his “freedom” theme. Gibson doesn’t know any more about directing than he does about acting; he’s pretty much a horror at both. It doesn’t even bug me that the entire film is historically ludicrous — a Jesus complex painted blue with a comic book version of “Scottish history” at its center — because so are lots of really fine movies, starting and not ending with the most recent Best Picture winner, Argo. It bugs me that it’s an incompetent, pandering, bloodsport-happy work of ineptitude and stupidity by a zero-dimensional Hollywood hero we know to be an ugly and hate-filled shithead.

Braveheart is full of this simpleton’s (really, his more accomplished crew’s) impression of filmmaking, with completely arbitrary insert shots, exhausting camera movement, a loathsome exotic view of Scotland (accompanied by an appalling “folksy” James Horner score), an apparent ignorance toward reality, and a kind of sickening self-adulation. Any “director” who ends his movie by putting himself on The Rack is too in love with himself to care at all about an audience.

But I got excited when I recognized that Edward I was being played by, of all people, Patrick McGoohan. It’s such a kick to see Number Six thirty years after The Prisoner that I breezed through the first half of the movie. But his is the only good performance of the film (largely because only he realizes he’s in a comedy) and even it is one-dimensional, as much fun as it is. On the whole the film cribs so much from better movies like Ben-Hur and Spartacus it’s hardly even worth paying attention to, and like many historical epics, it’s at least one hour longer than it has any reason to be, for the sole reason that man, it just wouldn’t be a real epic if it clocked in at a reasonable number of minutes. Consequently, the film keeps going for around three quarters of an hour after its climax, which is inexcusable, and thus will have even the most sympathetic viewers gnawing at the leather straps Gibson has undoubtedly placed in their chairs to keep them sedated.

If nothing else, the film is watchable, but not for the reasons Gibson probably intended. It’s such hokey trash one can hardly look away to see what form of decency it will spit on next. Does Mel think we want to see Scottsmen mooning their enemies in battle (which never happened)? Does he think we want to watch a guy who looks like he belongs on the cover of a dime paperback, replete with coiffed Fabio hair, screaming about “freedom”? Does he think we care enough about the lost lover whose throat got cut that we feel he’s justified in killing everyone he runs into to “avenge” her? And who the hell taught him how to frame an action scene? You don’t even know where the hell you are half the time in this movie. It’s half lurid Roger Corman dramatics, half Coleman Francis incompetence.

This one-dimensional story of good guys and bad guys is a collection of 177 minutes worth of macho clichés, right down to the blatant homophobia and the fact that the only two women with major roles both can’t wait to get fucked raw by… well, what do you know! Their director. Anyway, it’s junk, and the worst kind of junk, the Oscar-winning kind. #88 on the IMDB 250, too. Honest to god. We have a long way to go, comrades.

[Slight update of a review first posted in 2007.]

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