Thursday, November 3, 2016

Theory Thursday: "Braveheart" is Overrated

Mel Gibson
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Hacksaw Ridge opens in theaters this Friday.
Theory: Braveheart is overrated.

There are dozens of directions that one can go with when it comes to Mel Gibson. He is after all more notorious than acclaimed these days, and I wouldn't suggest otherwise. I could suggest that The Beaver is underrated or that The Road Warrior is better than Fury Road. Yet those feel quaint in my personal opinions when compared to a feeling that has been rooted deeper and longer inside me. In general, I think that he is a decent actor who worked best when not playing into his fetishistic mix of The Three Stooges slapstick and masochistic violence. He had that Hollywood charm that obviously made him a noteworthy star for a few decades. To some extent, I want to believe that Hacksaw Ridge is a good film. At best, I would love to think it's a contemporary morality tale akin to Sergeant York. However, I cannot help and laugh at something else.

It's from the director of Braveheart. That doesn't seem all that bad in theory. After all, the film won Best Picture and solidified Gibson's status as a powerhouse. However, there's certain ironies that come with the director of Braveheart doing a film centered around a supposedly anti-weaponry protagonist. He is after all the man who turned Jesus Christ's final days alive into an extremely violent tale. I think that there's potential in the narrative to be that Hacksaw Ridge is a meta film meant to show Gibson literally putting down his arms to unite with the industry that threw him out. I haven't seen this film, but I want to believe that it strikes a balance that shows his gift beyond violence. Why is that? It's because I really, really, really don't like Braveheart and consider it one of the worst Best Picture winners not only in recent history, but of all 88 winners.

The argument could be made that I simply don't like masochistic movies. I found this divide just last year when I disliked The Revenant while others saw it as this magnum opus. However, my dislike for that movie doesn't compare to how I felt coming out of Braveheart. As someone who made a conscious effort to watch all 88 winners, I have my own set of opinions that range from conventional to controversial. I previously wrote about how I can't stand Ben-Hur and Chariots of Fire. I even don't hate Crash as much as most people. With all of this said, I never have been able to understand the appeal of Braveheart, which is a long and tedious film without much of the enjoyment.

I will get a few things out of the way. I am down on this film because of its inaccuracies. I vaguely know of them, but I believe cinema's job isn't to tell the truth. It's to entertain. All of this can be forgiven if I come out of the other side feeling exhilarated like I was with Gladiator. Instead, I come away with certain revelations. The triumphant moment where Gibson is maimed publicly towards the end doesn't paint him as a hero to me, but just another exploitative moment within a film that does its best to worship a violent tendency. One could read it as your typical "War is hell" motif, but the graphic nature adds very little to my enjoyment. Beyond Gibson's rallying cry of "Freedom!," I am left a tad unsure of what I was supposed to enjoy out of this film. As I said before, it's long and tedious.

I will also admit that I wasn't taken by the deliberate homophobia, which is played for laughs here. I admit that by now I have largely forgotten it. However, I am more annoyed by the lack of engaging story that makes the violence have to work. I get that Gibson is a man fighting for freedom, but the surrounding narrative arc is, ahem, long and tedious. It has the intent of an epic, but it never humanizes its performers in any considerable way. There's a dull romantic plot thrown in to make Gibson's struggle seem greater. I don't quite see it. It's there, but it feels at times like studio notes trying to make this character into one of the most likable guys out there. I'm sure that the direction during the fight scenes are technically impressive, but I felt no personal stakes in watching it.

I'm sure that one could perceive this epic as art with people's heart and souls being poured into every frame. Frankly, I got that more out of Apollo 13 (which should've won) and to an extent the nominee that could called Babe. It was a fascinating year for film, and I don't fault anyone who goes to see Braveheart for the spectacle. I feel that it's the type of aspect that The Academy is missing in modern nominees. I just feel like Braveheart wasn't the most effective use of it, tending to play more like glorified bloodshed. Again, I do blame my considerably "tame" interest in dramas over action films as a core reason that I hate Braveheart. Even then, I've seen great war films, and I even think that Gladiator is a superb version of a similar story. There's just something missing, and it has nothing to do with my opinions on Gibson (who I'd rate as merely "fine").

I am sure that someone out there can tell me why I'm wrong and that Braveheart is one of the greatest films ever. It's one of the great reasons that I like cinema. It's subjective and two people rarely see film the same way. However, this is just one of those films that I have a visceral disinterest in in ways that don't come across in the other Best Picture winners. It's not as predictable of a pariah as The Greatest Show on Earth (an okay film at best), but I do think that it's tough to go against the grain on it as just a film. It's not because of its inaccuracies or Gibson's public persona. It's just not a film that I connect with. While some could see American Beauty as the low point of 1990's winners (because it's dated poorly), I think of it as Braveheart. Maybe Shakespeare in Love or Dances With Wolves comes close in my disdained winners, but none are as frustrating as Braveheart. It's not even close.

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