Tuesday, May 19, 2015


 "Every man dies, not every man really lives."

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Mel Gibson's BRAVEHEART.

Based upon the life and deeds of William Wallace, a 13th century Scottish warrior who led his countrymen in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England, this cinematic version was loosely based on the epic 1488 poem written by Blind Harry, and was adapted for the screen by Randall Wallace...who was writing his first screenplay.

The ambitious project, which would involve six weeks of shooting on location in Scotland, was taken on by actor and director Mel Gibson...who would also star as William. Gibson, who was an international star thanks to his roles in the MAD MAX and LETHAL WEAPON franchises, had only directed one film prior; his 1993 intimate drama THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE. Inspired by the directors who had guided him in his early years such as George Miller and Richard Donner, Gibson set out to make a film which would echo back to the big screen epics he had grown up with; citing Stanley Kubrick's SPARTACUS (1960) and William Wyler's BIG COUNTRY (1958) as direct influences.

Armed with a strong cast which included Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Angus Macfadyen, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Cox, Sean McGinley, David O' Hara, Alun Armstrong, James Cosmo, Catherine McCormack, and Tommy Flannagan...Gibson shot the major battle scenes in Ireland using members of the Irish Army Reserve; up to 1,600 at one time in certain scenes.

Although the film would be criticized as being historically inaccurate, no one outside of a classroom seemed to care. BRAVEHEART was the 13th highest grossing film of 1995 and earned praise from critics. At the 68th Academy Awards it would be nominated for ten Oscars, winning five; including Best Picture and Best Director for Gibson. Gibson would also win at the Golden Globes, and James Horner's soundtrack would also win big; taking home an Oscar, a Globe, Saturn, and BAFTA Award. His soundtrack would go on to become one of the most commercially successful soundtracks of all time. Long-term, BRAVEHEART would cause a boom in Scottish tourism, and authors and scholars have credited the film with playing a significant role in affecting the Scottish political landscape in the late 1990's.


Throughout history, there have many films which have been more than happy to accept the label "epic"; some of them are very much deserving of that label, some are not. While many films give the appearance of being epic by staging huge battles, they often forget about the people who are the center of it...let alone give them a story of their own. While BRAVEHEART certainly has more than its share of massive bloody battles, at its heart and soul is the story of one person, and while that character's narrative may be a classic archetype, in the case of Gibson's film it would serve as a nice balance after all the bloodshed. Gibson knew the dangers of "battle fatigue" in war films, and knew enough to slow things down to bring the human element back into the story (years later, director Peter Jackson would use the same technique in his adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS), and that sort of dual-storytelling truly deserves the epic label. With that approach working for him, Gibson made a film which serves many purposes; a war film, a love story, a hero's journey, a tale of brotherhood and loss...along with a slice of history even though it does so in broad strokes.

BRAVEHEART is a film which was made at just the right time; it was put together just before the CG era would step in and replace thousands of extras on the battlefield with artificial soldiers, which not only made for a stunning spectacle on-screen, but would teach Gibson the lessons needed for him to eventually become a top-tier director in Hollywood. Gibson's classical influences are up-front and center in BRAVEHEART, and it may stand as one of the last great old-school Hollywood war films. This Blogger watches BRAVEHEART once a year...always during awards season; each time out savoring the journey of a hero and a rousing romantic film.

"They fought like warrior poets, they fought like Scotsmen...and won their freedom."

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