THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, May 24, 1995 TAG: 9505240055 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E5 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, ENTERTAINMENT WRITER LENGTH: Medium: 88 lines
THERE WAS A TIME when movies regularly transported us to faraway places and times.
In contrast to stage or the written word, movies were the only entertainment field large enough to recreate historical look and feel.
It was largely believed that this sort of movie-making was over. Charlton Heston pointed out that a movie like his ``Ben Hur'' could not be made in modern cost-conscious Hollywood.
All reports on the death of the historical spectacle, however, have been premature. The genre is back with ``Braveheart,'' a film in which 3,000 extras parade and battle to re-create 13th century Scotland.
The battle scenes are stunning - and even make sense. As the English face off against the Scots, you can tell who is on what side. You can even ascertain the battle strategies.
Mel Gibson directs the film and stars as the martyred Scots national hero William Wallace in this big, gory and grimy spectacle that gives you a lot for your money. As a student of spectacle, Gibson is closer to the schmaltz of Cecil B. DeMille than he is to the artistry of David Lean, but no matter. In a movie world that has almost been taken over by the urban excesses of concrete streets and screeching tires, fans of the historical epic will take what we can get. ``Braveheart,'' in spite of its almost-three-hour length, is not at all hard to take.
The plot is rather simple, and suspiciously ``Hollywoodish'' to the degree that we are cautioned not to take this too seriously as history. Still, there are obvious facts offered. Wallace is, indeed, the greatest hero of the Scottish people and he did stand off the English at the Battle of Stirling, only to eventually be executed.
If ``Rob Roy'' was an intimate and mature treatment that deserved praise for its levity, ``Braveheart'' goes more directly for slash-and-smash movie heroics. Gibson paints his face blue, dons a rather grimy kilt and musters his troops with a gusto that hasn't been seen since Kirk Douglas spurred the slaves to revolt in ``Spartacus.''
And there are not one, but two, women in his life. Fresh-faced Catherine McCormack is his great love, and the force that spurs him to vengeance. Sophie Marceau is the mystic Princess Isabelle who is assigned to bribe him but falls for him instead.
Patrick McGoohan is the evil-eyed villain King Edward I. Perhaps the best performance in the film is contributed by Angus McFadyen as the troubled Scotsman Robert the Bruce, a man who wants to save his country, and wants to be like Wallace, but can't.
For Gibson, bringing off a film this big is a major breakthrough in his battle to become an individual filmmaker rather than a repetitive actor who cashes in on sequels. Many thought he sold out by making trilogies from the ``Lethal Weapon'' and ``Mad Max'' franchises - and his mugging in ``Maverick'' didn't do a great deal to suggest he had comic possibilities.
But he did signal that he wanted more by making a successful film of ``Hamlet'' when no one else could have sold it. He was smart, too, in choosing a pleasant little drama, ``The Man Without a Face,'' as his directorial debut. One suspects that directing ``Braveheart'' was a great deal like directing heavy traffic but, nonetheless, he has brought it off.
On the minus side, the film is needlessly lengthy. A lengthy prologue about Wallace as a child could go. So could a portion of the seemingly endless torture in the last 30 minutes. Actors who direct themselves seem loath to do cutting. There are signs, too, of homophobia in the script's mincing repetition of stereotypes in which Prince Edward is presented as being weak and ineffectual because of his homosexuality.
The violence is gory and tough to take. Axes and picks do their work here for, after all, this is 13th century warfare.
The three hours, though, seem like much less. The film should receive Oscar nominations for costuming, cinematography and especially for James Horner's multifaceted and stirring musical score. ILLUSTRATION: MOVIE REVIEW
Cast: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine
McCormack, Angus McFadyen, Peter Hanly
Director: Mel Gibson
Screenplay: Randall Wallace
Music: James Horner
MPAA rating: R (violence with the gore laid on thick)
Mal's rating: ***
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