Picks and Pans Review: Braveheart

updated 05/29/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/29/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Mel Gibson, Patrick McGoohan

Gibson's inspiration for this, his second directorial effort, was surely Kevin Costner. Braveheart is only 2 minutes shorter than the Kev's 3-hour, 1-minute western Dances with Wolves. And Braveheart is, similarly, an old-fashioned historic romance that aspires to epic breadth but comes across as basically wide in the hips. Braveheart—-which is about William Wallace, the Scottish rebel who led a prolonged campaign against English forces in the 13th century—is nothing to be embarrassed about. But it's nothing to get whooped-up over, either.

The fact that Braveheart is, at least, never boring is a tribute to Gibson's star power, undiminished even by hair extensions. His performance adheres strictly to a technique that someday may be taught to acting students as "Gibson's magic triangle." It consists of roguish charm, a lingering look of suffering—and furious howls that puff out the neck muscles like a bellows. Gibson also makes shrewd use of his electric blue eyes, which are highlighted in several key scenes by the cobalt war paint smeared on his face.

Braveheart has been shot in wide-screen without much imagination. But then, the ancient hills of Scotland are not expected to compete with Gibson's own weathering features. His big, proud head always seems to be looming into view, like Darth Vader minus the intergalactic backdrop. No one else in the cast seems to exist. That's something of a feat, given the scene-stealing genius of British and Irish actors in character parts. McGoohan, as Wallace's nemesis Edward I, looks as if he wished he could discreetly distance himself from his cheap-looking prosthetic nose. The touchingly desperate cornerstone of his performance is a hacking cough.

The movie is full of battle scenes, all of them interchangeable. It may or may not be braggadocio, but Gibson has said that an early cut of the movie was so brutal, test audiences needed what the Scottish bard Robert Burns might have called "baerf baeygues." As it stands, Braveheart is extremely violent—the limbs drop like autumn leaves—but in a cartoonish way that only occasionally jolts. (R)

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