Movie Review: ‘Outlaw King’
Plot: The epic tale of one Scotland’s legendary heroes, Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine). Out-manned and outmatched, Robert nevertheless rallies the Scottish people in an effort to free his country from the tyranny of the English crown. With the help of trusted cohort James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his young wife Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh) Robert rises from outlaw lord to King of Scotland.
Review: Full disclosure, Braveheart is one of my all-time favorite films. It’s the first movie I remember seeing multiple times in the theater and one that I credit as the impetus for my life long obsession with film. When I saw that up and coming director David McKenzie (Hell or High Water) was re-teaming with Chris Pine to bring the story of Robert the Bruce to Netflix, I was immediately intrigued and excited when I saw the first preview. While Outlaw King doesn’t approach the lofty heights of Braveheart, it nonetheless stands as a solid and entertaining historical epic.
Pine plays the titular hero. When the film begins in 1304 Robert, along with several Scottish noble lords, surrender to Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane from Game of Thrones) after years of open rebellion. The peace is short-lived however as Robert begins to see how English oppression once again threatens his homeland. Breaking his sacred oaths, Robert begins another rebellion against England and takes the title King of Scotland.
Chris Pine brings a gravitas and strength to Bruce that once again proves why he’s more than just Captain Kirk. While there certainly isn’t a deep dive here when it comes to the character, Pine exudes leadership. He’s a man who cares more about the people than the crown. The crown is just a means to an end, the end being freeing his people from English rule. While not as inspirational as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace, Pine’s Bruce showcases a quiet but determined demeanor. He knows his land and his people and is willing to “fight like wolves” in order to regain his country.
The cinematography is top-notch with Barry Ackroyd (The Hurt Locker) bringing the bright green vales and sweeping shores of Scotland to life. Scotland in and of itself becomes a character in its own right, especially in the final stirring battle at Loudon hill. Director David MacKenzie does an admirable job bringing medieval Scotland to life. There’s an attention to detail from the costumes, to the makeup, to the castles that makes you think you’ve stepped back in time to a grittier era where you can hear the clash of steel and the smell of smoke. The fight scenes are on par with any historic epic put on screen if again not quite as spectacular as say Kingdom of Heaven. If decapitations, hacked limbs, and disemboweling are your thing, you’ll be pleased. The blood and carnage in Outlaw King is legion.
All the acting performances are top-notch, in particular Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s James Douglas. The man is obsessed with reclaiming his land and name and his devotion to Robert is absolute. He’s a wild man in battle with crazed eyes and a fierceness that will scare you. Taylor-Johnson is no stranger to physical roles with Kick-Ass, but this is on another level. Florence Pugh also shines as Robert’s Queen. She’s a layered character, loyal to her husband but smart and independent as well. Pugh is no damsel in distress. Billy Howie also makes for a great villain as the Prince of Wales. This is a far departure from Peter Hanly in Braveheart. While Hanly played the role as a weak and foppish man-child, Howie’s Edward II is malicious and cruel. He’s motivated by a strong desire to prove himself to his father. I loved the interplay between Howie and Pine.
Having said all this, Outlaw King is not without its faults. I didn’t care for Tony Doogan’s score. It’s not quite epic enough for the film’s material and he can’t hold a candle to James Horner. Also the dialogue is sometimes clunky and out-of-place. One line, “I am so sick of Scotland!” made me cringe. And while I typically don’t comment on time length in a film, Outlaw King at just over two hours feels too short for a historical epic. There were plenty of other intriguing aspects to the Scottish rebellion after the Loudon Hill battle that left me wondering why MacKenzie and company didn’t go farther. Additionally, there’s something about Outlaw King that left me a little cold. This isn’t a film that I will revisit over the years, something I was hoping would happen.
As far as historical war epics go you could do a lot worse than Outlaw King. While it doesn’t attain the heights of films like Gladiator or Lawrence of Arabia, it’s a serviceable epic that too often doesn’t get made in Hollywood these days.
My rating System:
0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
4 Sub Par
8 Very Good
10 A Must See
Outlaw King: 7/10
You can follow me on Twitter at @Darthgandalf1