The first time Mel Gibson directed a film, the gentle little coming-of-age story “The Man Without a Face,” reviewers stumbled over themselves to praise it.
The general feeling was surprise, even shock, that a guy who came to fame as “Mad Max” might actually be able to direct a movie with genuine feeling.
Now, Gibson has stepped up several notches.
Having graduated from the ranks of rookie directors, he’s entered the realm of filmmaker with his epic attempt at historical drama, “Braveheart.”
And reviewers are again stumbling over themselves to praise it.
There is much to like. “Braveheart” tells the story of a Scottish hero, William Wallace, who in the early 14th century took up arms against a sea of troubles - namely, the English armies of cruel King Edward I - and by opposing, ended them. At least for a while.
In Gibson’s hands, this film biography aims for Stanley Kubrick country; it yearns to be “Spartacus.” It boasts the sweep and scale of an epic, and yet it retains a heart that beats to the rhythm of its subject.
Throughout the film’s many battle scenes, which boast graphic violence fitting to an era in which victory in war meant who first cleaved whose head in twain, Gibson always brings us back to Wallace.
In the midst of the many panoramic shots of Scotland’s lovely highlands, Gibson’s camera always finds Wallace.
When it comes time for might to makes its case for right, Gibson makes sure that Wallace has the seat of - well, honor might not be the most appropriate word.
And as Wallace, Gibson, who always provides a human presence to the action genre, does so again here. His Wallace, though fully a man of brutal times, is equally capable of love and laughter.
And yet, something seems to be missing. Maybe it involves the speed with which Wallace casts off the mantle of respectability.
When the English take from him that which he most loves, Wallace evolves from farmer-wannabe to murderous rebel with apparent ease; his rage is so under control that it appears to be nonexistent.
Except for when he steps onto the battlefield, for then Wallace becomes a bloody tornado of death. Then, to the cry of “Freedom,” he lays waste to any man who would oppose him.
And if nothing else, “Braveheart” brings to the screen full well the image of what a spiked ball of iron can do to a human head.
One problem is that “Braveheart” is too good at showing that, without Wallace, the Scots might never have left their mud huts and sheep-filled hillsides.
More intelligent than his common brethren, he’s also braver than any of the Scottish nobles - especially the traditional Scottish hero, Robert the Bruce.
Gibson spends so much time showing us Wallace’s strengths, it’s nigh impossible to imagine that anyone is capable - better yet, worthy - of taking his place.
The acting is uniform, with Gibson not shortchanging his efforts before the camera because of his duties behind it.
His two love interests, Catherine McCormack and Spohie Marceau, are nice to look at. And Patrick McGoohan (of “The Prisoner” fame) makes Edward the perfect, despicable tyrant.
Yet good acting, shotmaking and a charismatic lead role alone won’t grant you a pass to Kubrick country. Nor even to Costner country.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Braveheart” Location: Newport Highway, East Sprague and Coeur d’Alene Cinemas Credits: Directed by Mel Gibson, starring Gibson, Patrick McGoohan, Sophie Marceau, Catherine McCormack, Peter Hanly and Angus McFadyen Running time: 2:53 Rating: R
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