Live by Night
The key question behind Live by Night isn’t so much “Why did they bother?” as “What went wrong?”
Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" is a full-throated, red-blooded battle epic about William Wallace, the legendary Scots warrior who led his nation into battle against the English in the years around 1300. It's an ambitious film, big on simple emotions like love, patriotism and treachery, and avoids the travelogue style of so many historical swashbucklers: Its locations look green, wet, vast, muddy and rugged.
Not much is known about Wallace, known as Braveheart, except that according to an old epic poem, he unified the clans of Scotland and won famous battles against the English before being captured, tortured and executed as a traitor.
Wallace's dying cry, as his body was stretched on the rack, was "freedom!" That isn't exactly based on fact (the concept of personal freedom was a concept not much celebrated in 1300), but it doesn't stop Gibson from making it his dying cry. It fits in with the whole glorious sweep of "Braveheart," which is an action epic with the spirit of the Hollywood swordplay classics and the grungy ferocity of "The Road Warrior." What people are going to remember from the film are the battle scenes, which are frequent, bloody and violent. Just from a technical point of view, "Braveheart" does a brilliant job of massing men and horses for large-scale warfare on film. Gibson deploys what look like thousands of men on horseback, as well as foot soldiers, archers and dirty tricks specialists, and yet his battle sequences don't turn into confusing crowd scenes: We understand the strategy, and we enjoy the tactics even while we're doubting some of them (did 14th century Scots really set battlefields aflame?).
Gibson is not filming history here, but myth. William Wallace may have been a real person, but "Braveheart" owes more to Prince Valiant, Rob Roy and Mad Max. Once we understand that this is not a solemn historical reconstruction (and that happens pretty fast), we accept dialogue that might otherwise have an uncannily modern tone, as when Braveheart issues his victory ultimatum to the English: "Scotland's terms are that your commander present himself in front of our army, put his head between his legs and kiss his - - -." Uh, huh.