Quick Hit: Beautiful film work and realistic battles have some issues meshing with the expositional dump that occurs at points throughout the film.
David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) is a terrific talent. He shows that immediately in Outlaw King by giving us an opening shot that never breaks and is (by my estimation) over ten minutes long. This is beautiful and goes a long way to setting the tone of the film, because eventually the film devolves, in a sense, into a battlefield mess. However, those scenes are just as technically wonderful – it’s almost as if Mackenzie purposely allows the juxtaposition between these two moments – one where the royalty and the shot is composed, and one where everything has literally gone deep in the mud.
Outlaw King works as a pseudo-sequel to Braveheart. Whereas the latter focused on William Wallace, here the film focuses on Robert the Bruce, who eventually became King of Scotland. The man himself is played by Chris Pine, who continues to make a name for himself. Here he plays a much more subdued character than say, Kirk from Star Trek or even Steve from Wonder Woman. It matches similarly to the cowboy he played in Hell or High Water, who was mainly softness with some moments of frightening violence. There same applies to Robert, who often leaves his actions to speak for him (at least in this cut – there were an additional 20 minutes that were cut from when it played on the festival circuit to when it hit Netflix. Pine is understatedly good, but you can’t help but want more from him. Bruce feels as if he should be more than he is here.
However, that allows for two things to occur – one a quiet romantic relationship develops between him and arranged wife Elizabeth de Burgh (Florench Pugh). This is one of the best parts of the movie that is slow and understated. It takes its time and doesn’t rush the romance, which is better. Pugh is very good here, slowly warming both the audience and Bruce to her without being forceful. The second is that it allows the world to see more of James mothereffing Douglas.
James Douglas stole this movie for me. Played with riotous glee by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals, Avengers: Age of Ultron), he is consistently the craziest person on screen as well as the most entertaining. He literally goes into a church at his former castle, kills everyone, and then BURNS IT ALL DOWN. His screams reverberate in my head and won’t let me think of anything other than how awesome his performance is.
The downside to this film is probably the amount of exposition. It could be rather boring for some, particularly if you aren’t ready for occasionally poor Scottish accents. There’s a lot of introduction in that first scene, which explains a bit as to why Mackenzie may have felt it was important to make a splash with his camerawork. But even when circling around men that are having an impromptu sword fight, there seems to be exposition occurring. I’m all for giving some historical facts – particularly from people that thought Braveheart was accurate, but there’s got to be a better way to do this then just dumping it on everyone in the first half hour or so of the film.
Luckily, a lot of the battles make up for it. They’re thrilling, disgusting, with fantastic effects that reek of practicality. It’s another step towards what it really felt like in those battles. They weren’t glorious – they were freaking terrifying.
Overall, Outlaw King has a lot of strengths and only a few weaknesses. I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"