Once upon a time, no one could have conceived that Mel Gibson could pull off the lead role in a dazzling, epic, historical adventure-thriller-romance, let alone direct it. But he did, making Braveheart a vastly entertaining and powerful film and winning a boatload of Oscars in the process.
Here, Gibson plays Scottish hero William Wallace, a Scotsman with simple roots who finds himself thrust into a role as leader of the Scottish revolt against England in the late 13th century. After the despicable King Edward the Longshanks (Edward I) decrees that English nobles will have the right to sexual relations with all newly-wed Scottish women, the revolution is set in motion. Wallace takes up the cause, only to find himself facing incredible odds against a superior English army and fighting Scottish nobles who want to negotiate peace instead of fight. In fact, it’s the nobles who turn out to be the bigger obstacle.
The film is exquisite in its melding of romance, political intrigue, and some of the most effective (and gory) battle scenes you’ve ever seen. At the forefront is the surprisingly capable portrayal of Wallace by Gibson, who comes off as such an awesome Everyman hero that he makes Rob Roy look like a wuss. Also, the film is so effective at making the English seem so overwhelmingly evil–really evil–that the audience is nearly ready to rush the screen.
Thematically, Braveheart explores the definitions of honor and nobility, reinforcing what we’ve always known: that true nobility is not the result of your birthright, but that it arises from the way you live your life. It’s an excellent reminder that stays with you long after the film is over, and that is all too rare in Hollywood.