I always snicker to myself a bit when I remember Braveheart’s stance as a Best Picture Oscar winner. In a way, I understand. The film is long and epic. It is a period piece that tells a sweeping story of heroism and noble sacrifice. Upon release, it seemed like one of those movies everyone saw. It even spawned some catchphrases.
In retrospect, however, the film is more than a little goofy. Anyone who goes through it looking for stuff to be offended by will have a field day. The villains are fun but paper thin. The romance (the second one) is ridiculous. And when it comes to the history on display, the film’s Wikipedia page hilariously notes “it has been described as one of the most historically inaccurate modern films.” Despite its triumphs and trophies, Braveheart is not the important prestige film you were looking for.
Instead, Braveheart represents something of a B-movie masterpiece that happened to win Best Picture. When I think about the film, I don’t really remember it being beautiful or moving or informative. I just remember that part where William Wallace bashes a guy’s head in with a lead ball.
And really, that should be this film’s legacy. It’s fucking violent and filled with war. The heroes are super manly men, the villains are evil dandy men, swords go through faces, buddies bro-down like crazy, and everything’s dirty as hell.
This is why I watched Braveheart a gazillion times. Tethered to Mel Gibson’s peak (or pretty close, anyway) charisma, we basically follow the film from one atrocity to the next. The death of his wife feels sickening without being graphic. Wallace’s immediate retribution feels satisfying and IS graphic. The upward march of his army toward England is thrilling and great. Wallace’s takedown of those who betray him is extremely brutal. And finally, the guy gets tortured for like half and hour before they finally behead him. If you came for the violence, you will leave satisfied. It doesn’t matter if the film is actually good or not.
If people knew The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto were in Gibson’s future, I doubt Braveheart would have won all the prestige it garnered. Those films, one desperate to yield importance, the other about as bizarrely esoteric as possible, both revel in violence and gore, exploring the most minute details of physical destruction with the glee of an absolute psychopath. More than anything, Gibson’s output since winning his Best Director Oscar tells us what kind of film Braveheart REALLY is. He likes to fuck people up in his films.
And I’m thankful to have it, just as I’m thankful for the films he made after (especially Apocalypto). I just think it’s hilarious that this wacky bloodbath ending up being a major award-winning movie. This isn’t Silence of the Lambs, it’s Hannibal. And I fucking love Hannibal.