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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 26, 1995


Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson;
Catherine McCormack;
Brendan Gleeson;
David O'Hara;
Angus McFadyen;
Sophie Marceau;
Patrick McGoohan
sexual situations, group male nudity and gruesome violence
Picture; Director; Cinematography; Effects; Makeup

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I'm no historian, as Mrs. Taylor often reminded me at school, but I have the gravest doubts that 13th-century Scottish rebel William Wallace instructed his troops to moon the English at the beginning of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Perfunctory research in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and a few other sources has failed to, uh, uncover any such incident.

But according to Mel Gibson's bloody, glib, saccharin and lengthy "Braveheart," the troops of Edward I were met with more than just a display of Scottish might. If the movie achieves little else, it puts to rest that age-old question about what Scotsmen wear under their kilts.

Gibson's second directorial effort, in which the oppressed people of Scotland are led to freedom by a short man with dazzling blue eyes, a dreadlock wig, an Australian accent and excellent biceps, is a rambling disappointment.

The movie, written by ex-television scriptwriter Randall Wallace (whose potential blood connection to his subject is undetermined), starts off at a disastrous limp. For a good 50 minutes, we watch Wallace evolve from boy to man, grow all that hair, then woo and wed childhood sweetheart Murron (Catherine McCormack).

Then after Murron runs somewhat afoul of the rapacious English law (in which English overlords get to sample the goods of brides on their wedding night), Wallace becomes an instant populist leader.

Accompanied by strongman Hamish (Brendan Gleeson as Little John to Gibson's Robin Hood) and wild Irishman Stephen (David O'Hara in a psychotically endearing performance), Wallace rallies the clans for a major confrontation with the Sassenachs south of the border. He also attempts to mobilize the Scottish nobles (including Angus McFadyen as Robert the Bruce), but the allegiances of these figureheads are shaky.

When Wallace's men (flush with their mooning success) take the war into the English town of York, brutal King Edward I, a k a Edward the Longshanks (Patrick "Secret Agent" McGoohan), decides it's time to crush the threatening Scot. He also dispatches Isabelle (Sophie Marceau), his French daughter-in-law (unhappily married to Edward's theatrically effete, namesake-son), to engage McMad Max with false concessions and Gallic comeliness.

What little is known of the real Wallace comes from isolated facts and a lengthy, fanciful ballad attributed to (I am not making this up) a sightless poet known as Blind Harry. So Gibson has much available license. However, he's excessive on every front, whether it's the syrupy, backlighted romance between Wallace and Murron or the heather-thronged killing fields. Authentic brutality is one thing, but making the point over and over again is the mark of an overeager neophyte.

If "Braveheart" were any longer, it would have to be moved around by flatbed truck. By the time the story trudges to its hyper-climactic close (with Gibson's appetite for historical, gory detail in major overdrive), you feel as though you marched through a couple of meaningless campaigns.

Anyone with good hair and a few rock videos (or a lucrative acting career) can get a director's job from the studios these days. But few can guide a big project to more than competent completion. Gibson, who previously directed "The Man Without a Face," has shown the world how good he looks in a kilt. He has demonstrated how easily he can arouse women of the Middle Ages: Marceau and her handmaiden go giddy at the mere mention of his name. And yes, he has guided this tale to completion. But now it's time to put the pants back on and return to Los Angeles. Veteran detective Danny Glover, who is still facing retirement, needs help against an international terrorist ring—or something like that.

BRAVEHEART (R) — Contains sexual situations, group male nudity and gruesome violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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