As fate would have it, for the third instalment of my one-movie-a-day-for-a-year quest into the realm of Hard Bastard-dom, the Tub of Death follows up Mel Gibson’s directorial debut with his next effort, the historically questionable, but gloriously thrill-packed Braveheart. Once again Mel stars, this time as real-life Scottish hero William Wallace, a commoner who revolts against English invaders in the late thirteenth century, eventually becoming a great leader and iconic figure in the War of Independence. Though Gibson took some stick for applying a heavy dose of artistic license to the unfolding of historic events (did Wallace really hump the French princess?!!?), there can certainly be no denying that this near three hour epic is still a stirring, emotionally-involving and action-packed corker of a film that quite deservingly won a host of Oscars, including Best Picture. As a cheeky bonus, it’s also violent as hell, with Gibson’s Wallace proving to be an iconic, sword-swinging action hero for the ages. Not bad for a dude in a skirt.
In the struggle to vanquish the English intruders, Wallace proves himself to be that rare breed of hero who has equal amounts brains to complement his considerable brawn. Having moved abroad at a young age to be educated by his uncle (the legendary Brian Cox), following the murder of his father at English hands, he returns home a man, ready to lead a rebellion. His first act upon arrival is to prove how hard he is by engaging in a ‘test of manhood’ with his old best pal Hamish (Brendan Gleeson), which basically involves grown men chucking massive rocks as hard and as far as they can. Though Hamish bests him, Wallace points out that the real test of a soldier is ‘not in his arm,’ but in his brain, before proceeding to prove how doubly hard he is by refusing to flinch as his pal lobs a bloody great big boulder that narrowly misses his head. Then, for good measure, he knocks the guy unconscious with a pebble, just to prove his point. Nice.
It doesn’t take the guy long to woo the ladies either, picking up where he left off with childhood sweetheart Murron (Catherine McCormack). The cheeky charmer proves to be pretty smooth for a savage, chatting her up in French and before you can say ‘voulez-vous coucher avec moi…’ they’re married. Quick work!
Things turn ugly when the arrogant English invaders, ‘exercising their noble right,’ try to have their way with her, provoking Wallace into a scrap where he solidifies his badass credentials by taking on a whole battalion of armed swordsmen, initially with nothing more than rocks and his mighty fists. During the battle, Wallace proves himself to be quite deadly with all manner of weaponry, from swords and spears to bloody great big hammers, showing no mercy and inspiring his people to take up arms and fight with him. When his missus is captured and killed, the woad really hits the fan, with the furious Wallace galvanising his people and leading them into massive, chaotic battles where the English quickly discover that vengeance wears a kilt…
Gibson’s Wallace is an almost unfeasibly cool customer, swaggering across battlefields and into the territory of an enemy that far outnumbers his army and coolly telling them that Scotland is free, end of story, and that if the English know what’s good for them they should bugger off. Putting those ‘Mad Mel’ eyes to good use, as part of his terms, he even dementedly demands that a rival commander cross the battlefield, where he will be invited to pucker up and kiss his own arse. Of course they do no such thing, but Wallace proves a master tactician, taking advantage of his opponents’ arrogance to set up cool little traps and diversions that catch them completely off guard to win battles against impossible odds. In one tremendous set-piece, massive rows of English horsemen foolishly charge at Wallace’s men, thinking them easy pickings, only to discover that the Scots have lured them into a trap and they’re all tooled up with huge spears, becoming a massive human hedgehog. It is a breathtaking, savage, wonderfully conceived cinematic moment, with Wallace at the heart of it all, relishing the carnage and vengefully lopping off heads amidst one of the most bloodthirsty battle scenes aver filmed.
The Scot quickly builds up a reputation as an ultimate, mighty warrior, so much so that newcomers to the resistance refuse to believe he is who he says he is and are a bit sceptical about following him. At this, Wallace proudly booms, ‘Aye, I hear he’s seven foot tall, kills men by the hundred and fights the English with fire from his eyes and lightning bolts from his arse!” His humour wins the men over, Gibson showing off his laudable Scots accent while delivering one of cinema’s most rousing, electrifying speeches. You know the one: it ends with him shouting ‘…FRREEEEEDDDOOOOMMM!!!!’ and his entire army lifting up their kilts to bare their bums at rather-frightened English archers.
Throughout the picture, Gibson pulls out all the stops to ensure that Wallace will be remembered as one helluva Hard Bastard. His gallantry in battle and daring tactics earn him a knighthood, but he doesn’t stop there. He shows his enemies how mental he really is by sending them severed heads in the post, and rides into the house of a traitor to bash his head in with a gargantuan ball-and-chain while he sleeps. It says a lot that the conspirator was already haing a nightmare about Wallace just before the attack. He is a seriously tough cookie.
He furthers his almighty badass credentials by refusing to compromise in the face of oppression. When the English offer him land and a title in exchange for a truce, he swiftly tells them where to stick it. When he loses a battle and discovers he has been betrayed by men he loved and trusted, the dude still gets back on his horse and fights on, furthering his legend and inspiring his people further.
Hell, Wallace proves so dashing and daring that the French Princess of Wales decides to betray King Edward, purely because she fancies him. Going against the history books, Gibson would even have us believe that Wallace seduces her and gets her pregnant, meaning that second in line to the English throne is actually his bloody kid. Now that’s a hero, right there!
Even when he is captured and facing death, the grizzled Scot is triumphantly gallus. Knowing his life will be spared if he pledges allegiance to his captor, Wallace flat out refuses, understanding that his absolute defiance stands as a beacon of hope: something for his downtrodden people to believe in and fight for. Solemnly, he declares, ‘Every man dies…not every man really lives,’ gallantly accepting his fate as a martyr for his countrymen, so that freedom might eventually return to the land he loves. It is proper legendary heroic behaviour, and as the Princess begs with him to drink an elxir that will numb the pain during his impending torture, the warrior quite brilliantly exclaims, ‘No…it will numb my wits, and I must have them. If I am senseless and I wail, then they will have broken me.’ He is one seriously tough cookie.
His death is suitably gnarly and grisly, ‘the awful price of treason,’ as his assailants put it. Publicly tortured, his body is wrecked as he is hung by the neck, pulled apart by horses, then finally, horribly mutilated, all while his persecutors implore him to beg for mercy. Yet the courageous freedom fighter never yields, clinging to his hopes, beliefs and integrity until the bitter end. During the film’s inspirational, awe-inspiring, reach-for-the –hankies crescendo, with his last breath Wallace roars his final word, a powerful call-to-arms and a sign to his enemies that he and his people will never be broken: FREEDOM. What a dude.
INDESTRUCTIBILITY: 8/10 - Wallace takes a hell of a beating and never gives up, though he does die in the end.
COMBAT SKILLS: 8/10 – Busts his enemies up with anything he can get his hands on, and with some style too.
ATTITUDE: 10/10 – Even in death, he sticks to his guns. A total hero.
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 8/10 Flashes his bum at his enemies and order them to kiss their own arses. Mental.
BODY COUNT: 33 in 175 minutes – impressive, but somehow you really do feel like it should have been more – 3/10
MEL’S SCORE: 37/50 – Not bad!
MEL’S AVERAGE: 25/50