For the past fifteen years, I have had the knack to walk out of a film and know then and there that it was the Best Film of the Year. I just get this feeling, and when the Academy Awards roll around, that feeling pays off.

I knew when I walked out of the screening of “Braveheart” in 1995 that it was destined to become the Best Picture of the Year. And why not? braveheart“Braveheart” had everything grand entertainment should possess: A beautiful, well told period piece featuring characters you could root for and hiss at. Shot with an eye towards the epic but never losing focus of the personal side of the story, “Braveheart” is a film that endures because it is grand entertainment.

“Braveheart” is the kind of film that stays with you long after the final credits. It exposes us to images that linger in the mind, both beautiful and ugly. It’s timeless in its presentation of matters of the heart and courage, perfectly evoking a time and place that is all but a memory.

Directed with absolute assurance by Mel Gibson, “Braveheart” is bold, brave and always alive with human emotion. Randall Wallace’s screenplay is filled with inspiration and hope, allowing director Gibson to paint with larger than life strokes yet maintain the film’s intimate core.

Gibson also stars as William Wallace, the mythic warrior who led several key battles for Scotland against the tyrannical British. Even though Randall Wallace’s screenplay is a mix of fact and fiction, Gibson makes Wallace so engaging that we don’t care. We want it to be true.

The filmmakers, especially Gibson and Wallace, understand that they’re tweaking history, and they make it clear that “Braveheart” is not a history lesson. They’re telling a story, and take liberties to further their cause.

At it’s heart, the film is a love story. Everything Wallace does he does out of love, either for the woman he loves, the country he loves, or the memory of the woman he loves. Love is a powerful driving force, and provides Wallace with enough passion to make commitments in his life. He secretly weds his childhood sweetheart Murron (The beautiful Catherine McCormack), only to lose her to the encroaching troops of the evil King Edward I.

Dubbed Braveheart by his men, Wallace vows to honor Murron’s memory by keeping Scotland free from England’s rule. That means going to battle with the King and his troops, who would love nothing more than to kill Wallace. It’s a daunting task, as Wallace and his men prove formidable opponents on the battlefield.

Vicious and brutal, the battle scenes earned the film a reputation, and deservedly so. Indeed, the battles are honest depictions of man’s cruelty towards man. They’re horrific because that was the way it was in 14th Century Scotland. Hand-to-hand combat was the norm, and director Gibson perfectly captures the visceral energy of such warfare.

Off the battlefield, the film is equally strong. The characters are vivid and well drawn, allowed to say and do things that not only make sense, but make perfect sense. There are no grays in “Braveheart.” Everything is drawn out in black and white, which works wonderfully well for this material. The British are portrayed as villains, while the Scots are portrayed as peaceful people who just want a place to call home. It’s an age old story that is still going on today.

As a director, Gibson makes all of this relevant. He gets us to care about Wallace and his followers, allowing us to become participants rather than casual observers. He wants us to get involved and take sides because that is what Wallace would have done. Luckily, Wallace’s screenplay is never manipulative in this regard. The filmmakers may have stacked the deck against the British, but they were the bad guys after all.

To that degree, Gibson couldn’t have picked a better King Edward I (nicknamed Longshanks) than Patrick McGoohan, who literally makes your skin crawl as he casually discusses the elimination of women and children. He’s despicable, yet McGoohan is smart not to make him one-dimensional. You always get the feeling that something is going on inside this man. When he tosses a man to his death, you understand his actions as a sign of fear. because he can’t beat Wallace, he picks on someone he can beat.

The women in Wallace’s life are also well drawn, becoming more than scenery. McCormack, who was absolutely delicious in “Dangerous Beauty,” is extremely warm and engaging as Murron, Wallace’s longtime sweetheart. You look in her eyes and you see a woman who is a survivor. The same applies to the lovely Sophie Marceau, the French actress who plays the reluctant bride of King Edward’s gay son, Peter Hanly).

Filmed in Scotland under the most adverse conditions, “Braveheart” stands as a testament to the works of such filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick and William Wyler. The action scenes are epic and exciting, delivering the bang for the buck. You’re constantly amazed at the scope of the film.

It’s also a testament to Gibson as an actor and director to pull all of this off. Gibson stands tall as Wallace, a man of conviction if ever there was one. Gibson makes it easy for us to believe in Wallace’s plight, both as an actor and a director. As an actor, he understands what makes the characters tick. As a director, he knows where to put the camera for maximum effect. The two sensibilities never fail him.

“Braveheart” cost $53 million back in 1994. It looks like a lot more. Today it would cost $100 million, and feature computer generated battle scenes. It wouldn’t have the same heart. Gibson created lightning in a bottle.


VISION: 20/20

check.gif (406 bytes) 2.35:1 Widescreen

check.gif (406 bytes) 16:9 Enhanced

check.gif (406 bytes) RSDL

Absolutely breathtaking, with some of the most sharpest and most vivid images I have seen on a DVD. Delivered from a pristine master, the images are clean and pure, with not one ounce of digital artifacts or noise present. The colors are striking, with excellent saturation that never bleeds or fades. Blacks are the best they can be, while whites and grays are pure. Depth of field is amazing and endless, while attention to detail is so fine tuned you can make out individual blades of grass. Greens and blues are especially pleasing, with realistic flesh tones that are flattering.

HEARING: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

check.gif (406 bytes) Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround

check.gif (406 bytes) Dolby Digital French Language

A lot of hard work went into the sound design to envelop you in the middle of the action, and the DVD totally respects that effort. Every sound field is alive with information, from rear speakers that pump out realistic ambient noise, musical cues with real oomph and dialogue. Surround effects are awesome, completely enclosing you in a wall of sound that makes the battles even more ferocious. Front sound stages are perfect, with excellent stereo split and a dialogue mix that is superior. Basses are effective, while high and middle ends are clean. Nice job.

ORAL: Good

check.gif (406 bytes) Closed Captions in English for the Hard of Hearing


check.gif (406 bytes) Feature-length commentary by director Mel Gibson, who goes the distance and then some. Here’s a man whose passion for film and filmmaking comes through loud and clear. I won’t get into the particulars because every word is a keeper. Suffice it to say that Gibson is candid as ever, providing insight and a lot of levity to the proceeding.

check.gif (406 bytes) Documentary “Mel Gibson’s Braveheart: A Filmmaker’s Passion.” I remember seeing this on television (cable, E!, I don’t remember) but found it fascinating then, and still do. There’s a lot of information in this 30 minutes documentary that provides Gibson with an excellent platform to sell his film. You get a chance to meet the cast, go behind-the-scenes on the film’s physical effects, and learn that the film’s authentic dreary look was actually an accident. You’ll also learn how they staged the bloody battles, and get a close-up look at the horses used for the most horrific moments. Great stuff, looks great.

check.gif (406 bytes) Two Theatrical Trailers, delivered in 1.85:1 instead of 2.35:1. The second one is better.

check.gif (406 bytes) Interactive main and scene access menus.

PROGNOSIS: Excellent

check.gif (406 bytes) “Braveheart” should be in every DVD library.


$29.95/Rated R/177 Minutes/Color/22 Chapter Stops/Keepcase




HMO: Paramount Home Video

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