Let's cut to the chase on 'Braveheart': If it had any brains, it might be the best


IF YOU'RE surprised that "Braveheart" is, now and forever, the official very best flick of 1995, it can mean only one thing.

You haven't seen the movie.

Like many of you, I had resisted the allure of actor/director/producer/face-painter Mel Gibson in kilts. After "Rob Roy," I figured I'd done the Scottish revolutionary genre to a farethewell.

But then it's late into Oscar night and everything changes. Either I'm suffering from sleep deprivation or possibly cleavage overload or they're actually giving Oscars to Gibson as best director and "Braveheart" as best picture.

Turns out, it's true. It was in all the papers. I rushed to the video store because I had to know: Was this really the best Hollywood had to offer? If Pocahontas can beat out Springsteen, anything's possible.

And so I watched, for nearly three hours, a movie overflowing with blue paint and red blood.

Where was the gold?

To tell you the truth, "Braveheart" isn't bad.

And it isn't good.

It's fair.

It's OK.

It's not as bad as it could have been. Not as good as you'd hope.

I give it two thumbs. Not up. Not down. Just thumbs.

What I'm saying is, if "Braveheart" hadn't won an Oscar, you'd never give it a second thought, unless you're really into beheadings and impalings -- both, apparently, 14th-century British Isle staples. Even if you are, you can only hope someday Quentin Tarantino will do the Middle Ages.

This was meant to be an epic, a "Spartacus" in kilts with a little "Henry V" thrown in. Gibson even delivers his own dot-to-dot version of the St. Crispin's Day speech. That's as close as we get to Shakespeare here.

Look, I like epics as much as the next guy. Take "Lawrence of Arabia," my favorite movie epic, in which you've got sand, camels, cool outfits and the haunting madness in Peter O'Toole's eyes. You've also got intelligence and nuance and risk and shadings (though not much shade).

In "Braveheart," you've got all the scale, but none of the smarts. It's about as subtle as Pat Buchanan with a microphone.

Gibon's character -- the legendary Scotsman William Wallace -- prattles on about freedom, like he's Patrick Henry or somebody. He hates the English, as anyone who watches this movie must. But this is really just another revenge flick. One critic called it "Braveheart With a Vengeance."

That's OK for your typical swashbuckling, rip-roaring, rip-out-their-guts kind of Mel Gibson movie. But it's not Oscar material. Even Forrest Gump, which I hated, had more going for it.

If you want complexity, you've got the wrong movie. If you want nuance, you've got the wrong movie.

Ambiguity? Shades of gray? Character development?

Wrong movie.

If you want to learn why Scotsmen wear kilts, though (apparently so they can moon the enemy), this is the place to be.

In "Braveheart," the good guys are very, very good. Maybe sainted. They never do a single thing that isn't noble and good, even when they're impaling people.

And the bad guys, conversely, are very, very bad.

How bad? The villainous English king -- played brilliantly by Patrick McGoohan -- casually tosses his son's boyfriend (yeah, you read that right) out the castle window without breaking stride. It's a good thing for Camilla Parker-Bowles that she missed the Middle Ages.

Here's the plot. (Don't worry that I'm giving anything away. You know what's going to happen from the first blood-letting.) When Wallace is a little boy, the English kill his father.

When he's grown up, the English kill his wife.

These twin events serve to, well, really get him steamed.

After which, he does what anyone would do. He kills all the English he can find.

In the meantime, he becomes the leader of a Scottish revolution. The usual stuff happens. When he isn't being betrayed by spineless Scottish noblemen, he's sleeping with the king's daughter-in-law. They speak French together. I'm not making this up.

You know how it ends. You know how it has to end. And you know just how noble Mel Gibson can be, too. He's got a brave heart, after all. And the rest of his body gets a test, too.

How could such a movie possibly win best picture?

It took a brave academy to make that vote. Like the movie: all bravery, no brains.

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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