The Best Picture Winners: Braveheart (1995)

| January 21, 2018

Oscar’s 90th birthday arrives in just 40 days and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.

In 1995 the Presidential campaign of Republican nominee Bob Dole needed a hot-button issue in order to pull ahead of Bill Clinton the Democratic incumbent who had successfully captured the hearts and minds of Young America (including yours truly).  Dole’s chosen target: The movies.  Specifically, movie violence which he claimed had gotten way out of hand and proceeded to mark glib commentary at a handful of movies that he hadn’t even bothered to see.  No one really took Dole seriously on this issue except, apparently, for one body that seemed to be listening: The voters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In the midst of Dole’s trumped up, though widely discussed, charges against the industry for its slipping morals, the voters chose five films that were basically harmless.  In a year that gave us hard-edged films like Leaving Las Vegas, Dead Man Walking, Nixon, To Die For and Crumb, the final ballot included soft-soaped efforts about a doomed space mission (Apollo 13), a cute little pig (Babe), a noble Scottish warrior (Braveheart), a love-lorn postman (Il Postino) and the squeaky-clean story of three sisters in 19th century England who engage in a game of matrimonial hopscotch (Sense and Sensibility).

In a bizarre twist, the winner turned out to be Braveheart, one of the most violent films to be released inside the calendar year even though no one at the time really faulted producer-director-star-caterer Mel Gibson for the blood and guts spilled all over the screen – it was an act of nobility, you see.  Not even Senator Dole complained.  In fact, no one really complained.  The movie was so beloved and Gibson (at the time) was so loved that he seemed to have earned points just for directing himself.  And I guess one can’t blame the Academy voters for rewarding one of their own for stepping behind the camera.  The director’s branch loves actors who direct.  In the last quarter century they’ve shown love to Richard Attenborough, Clint Eastwood, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Sydney Pollack, Ron Howard and Kevin Costner.

Braveheart was the second directorial after by Gibson (after The Man Without a Face) and although he hasn’t directed many films, his work is impressive.  And YET . . . and yet, of the five films that Gibson has directed, I think this may be the least of his work.  I don’t hate it but stacked up against The Man Without a Face, The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto and Hacksaw Ridge it is the film that I have the most problems with.

What stays with me are the battle sequences which are beautifully choreographed, but what doesn’t stay with me are any of the scenes off the battlefield.  I admire the struggle of William Wallace (played by Gibson who did NOT receive a not for Best Actor) the 13th-century Scottish warrior who leads the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England, an act of defiance that ultimately costs him his head.  But when the movie is over I haven’t learned much about the man himself.  What was boiling inside of him that made him want to take on this crusade.  It is the jolt of action that spurs him to battle but where is the humanity?  Who is this man, really?

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.