Cast: Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Billy Howie
Director: David Mackenzie
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: OUTLAW KING tells the untold, true story of Robert the Bruce who transforms from defeated nobleman to outlaw hero during the oppressive occupation of medieval Scotland by Edward I of England. Despite grave consequences, Robert seizes the Scottish crown and rallies an impassioned group of men to fight back against the mighty army of the tyrannical King and his volatile son, the Prince of Wales. Filmed in Scotland, OUTLAW KING reunites director David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) with star Chris Pine alongside Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh and Billy Howle.
What appears to be Netflix’s attempt to cash in on the Game of Thrones phenomena, Outlaw King is based on a true story and real people, which makes it feel that much more important as the story progresses. With the amount of star power attached to this project, it is no surprise that this film ended up with such a high production value. Powered by incredible cinematography, a strong performance by Pine in the lead role, and battle sequences that are some of the most intense of the year, Outlaw King is a pleasant, powerful film that keeps you entertained for most of the 121 minute runtime.
The film follows Robert the Bruce (Pine), one of the men who claims to be the King of Scotland after the country is ruled by the English. After the growing displeasure with the English rule and Robert killing his political rival John III Comyn (Callan Mulvey), Robert leads the Scots in an attempt to reclaim the land that they see as rightfully theirs. Starting off with what the film does well, the cinematography of Barry Ackroyd is some of the best of his career. Ackroyd has been attached to some very prominent films in the past, and his performance here shows exactly why he keeps getting jobs. Not only are the battle sequences fluid and level, but from one of the earliest scenes in the movie you know you are getting a high quality performance based on the beautifully shot sparring match between Robert and Edward Prince of Wales (Howie). Outside of the cinematography, Pine is phenomenal in the lead role. His accent is never think enough where you cannot understand what he is saying, but it still fits the world that these characters live in. He is one of the few characters you can either care about or relate to, and I am not sure the film would have been as good without his performance. Outside of Pine and the camerawork, the gore and violence were both effective enough to prove their point, but never got to a point where they were distasteful. There are multiple scenes that are absolutely brutal to watch, but since these are true events that happened to real people, it is important to be as realistic as possible. We are supposed to feel the physical pain and emotional discomfort these characters went through and Mackenzie’s decision-making for these scenes made those points that much more relevant. Where the film has issues though is with the character development of the less visible characters. With the exception of Robert and to a lesser extent his wife Elizabeth de Burgh (Pugh), none of the other characters ever stand out as people you can be emotionally attached to. James Douglas (Taylor-Johnson) seemed to have a potentially interesting story, but it never seemed to reach that next level to push it over-the-top. This is a shame, because all of the elements of an elite film are present here, but Outlaw King just does not make us care about anyone other than the characters that we have to care about.
Overall, Outlaw King is another solid addition to David Mackenzie’s career and shows us why the man has become such a force in the film industry. While it dips a bit in quality compared to his previous film Hell or High Water, I do not have too many major complaints about the movie. Due to a strong lead performance, gripping action sequences, and a focused story, it appears as though Netflix has added a unique project to their ever-expanding library and Outlaw King should be able to satisfy anyone craving medieval action before the next season of Game of Thrones.
Overall Score: 7/10