Sunday, August 15, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #8

8. Braveheart (1995)

Once upon a time in a magical land known as Hollywood, there lived a handsome "prince" by the name of Mel Gibson. All the ladies desired him, while all the boys wished to be him. He was even honored with Hollywood's own golden statuettes (both foreign and domestic). Since that time, he has fallen into a downward spiral that has affected his professional career, his personal life and his public reputation. He has floated between adequate performances in somewhat decent films (like Ransom and The Patriot) to courting controversy (with The Passion of the Christ) to just plain flopping altogether (with Apocalypto). His image began to be scorned because of his high-and-mighty conservative religious zealousness, bouts with public drunkenness and multiple angry rants of a racist and anti-semitic nature to the wrong people: the authorities and his girlfriend. But despite all of this, we must remember that there was a time period where Mel Gibson was good. And this brilliant Oscar-winning motion picture was the top of Mount Everest in the story of his success. So, no matter what despicable and borderline dangerous things the man has done recently, it will never change my opinion of his 1995 masterpiece.

This historical epic is based on the true story of the Medieval Scottish hero known as William Wallace, who led Scottish rebellions against the English King Edward I (known as Edward "Longshanks," because of his height). Edward I (the grandson of King John, of Robin Hood fame) wielded strong and often violent power over his neighbors to the north. Several battles ensued including famous (or infamous) ones like Stirling Bridge, Teba and Falkirk. Wallace's legend was cemented in the epic poem by Blind Harry, a 15th century minstrel. The poem served as most of the basis for the Mel Gibson's film. In the early 1990's, Mel Gibson had been intrigued by the figure of William Wallace and pursued the chance to produce, direct and star in a film about the legendary hero. He first went to Warner Brothers, but they wanted him to commit to a fourth Lethal Weapon movie before committing to produce Gibson's project which Gibson refused (although ironically he did a fourth Lethal Weapon movie in 1998). Eventually, Paramount Pictures agreed to a deal with 20th Century Fox to co-distribute the movie and share the high production costs.

Filmed in both Scotland and Ireland, Gibson was inspired by the big historical epics of the late 1950's and early 1960's like Ben-Hur and Spartacus. Gibson's film shares that same sweeping style and those same grandiose qualities. His performance as Wallace is stirring and even heartbreaking at times especially in the scene where he watches his wife being executed and the famous "Never take our freedom" speech. In addition to Gibson, the film features an amazing supporting cast beginning with the late great Patrick McGoohan as King Edward I. He had such a great presence in the role and gave the monarch a complexity beyond normal antagonism. Also in the cast are Brendan Gleeson as Wallace's compatriot and friend, Sophie Marceau as Princess Isabella (the French princess married to King Edward's son, future King Edward II, by arrangement) and Brian Cox as Wallace's father figure and mentor. The film has masterful qualities (especially in John Toll's picturesque cinematography and James Horner's phenomenal score) and its screenplay has great heart and pathos. The screenplay is by screenwriter (and later director) Randall Wallace (it is unknown as to whether he is a descendant of William Wallace). It is a dynamic and poignant film that won Oscars for Gibson (as producer and director) before he fell from grace. Here's to hoping the man gets his life in order again and returns to the types of movies (like this one) that once made him beloved.

Next Post: #7

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