IT'S unclear when Mel Gibson became a combination of Sam Peckinpaugh and Akira Kurosawa, but there's no question that "Braveheart" is one of the best epic movies of the '90s. Set in late 13th- and early 14th-century-Scotland, and based on the legendary exploits of the Scottish warrior William Wallace, it includes some of the most powerful battle scenes ever filmed for the modern wide screen, and yet it works on the human level as well.
Gibson stars as Wallace, whose ferocious nationalism was stoked with rage after British soldiers raped and murdered his wife. Gibson is fine as the populist hero, but the astonishing thing about "Braveheart" is that Gibson also directed it.
This is only his second movie as a director. His first, "The Man Without a Face," was a competent tale of the friendship between a lonely boy and an outcast disfigured teacher, but it did nothing to prepare us for the sweep and energy, beauty and horror of this riveting tale of the Scots' battle for freedom from imperial Britain.
A considerable amount of the credit for the magnificence of "Braveheart" has to go to cinematographer John Toll, who won an Oscar for "Legends of the Fall," and editor Steven Rosenblum, who was nominated for "Glory." Both would seem to be sure things for second Oscar nominations for this film, and Gibson might well find himself in the race for best director.
Scene after scene takes your breath away with its sometimes cruel beauty. Unlike the people who made "Rob Roy," a distinctly second-rate effort now that we have "Braveheart" to compare it with, Toll and Gibson add to the heroic, mythic effect of the movie - I spent half of it with chills running up and down my spine - with a deep sense of the forbidding magnificence of the hills of Scotland. There is one brief scene, with dawn creeping through a yellow fog as the Scots prepare for battle, that is literally unforgettable. …