"Outlaw King" Movie Review
A few minutes into Outlaw King, as you’re attempting to navigate your way through the history of the 14th-century Scottish-English relations and sort out who’s who, it might hit you. I don’t think the camera has cut at any point here. Sure enough, director David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water) starts the latest Netflix original with one, seamless nine-minute shot. Along the way, King Edward (Stephan Dillane) hears supplication from his vanquished enemies, there’s a swordfight pitting Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) against Edward’s son (Billy Howle), and it ends with one heck of a catapult shot. In one swirling bit of brilliantly choreographed filmmaking, Mackenzie completely sets the stage for the fight to come.
Overlapping briefly with the timeline of 1995’s Braveheart, Outlaw King tells the story of Robert’s early-1300’s Scottish rebellion against the crown. Filmed entirely on location (apparently in the throes of mud season), the film is a raw presentation of a gritty and bloody saga, which—while following the age-old David vs. Goliath storyline—manages to feel original and wholly entertaining, despite its flaws.
Mackenzie, who co-wrote the script alongside Bash Doran, James MacInnes, Mark Bomback, and David Harrower, gets down and dirty (quite, quite literally) as he transports us back 700 years to the time of longbows and broadswords. Robert, still steaming from the Scottish surrender to Edward, vows to get his people’s lands back, even if it means manning the rebellion one soldier at a time.
Make no mistake, the story of Outlaw King is grim and bleak, but in Mackenzie’s capable hands and with Pine leading the way, the film can’t help but draw you in. And though it’s as bloody as you think it will be (and then some, frankly), it never feels forced or gratuitous; there’s a clear sense that this was, for better or worse, how life was back in that time, and Outlaw King feels entirely authentic as a result.
With a final battle sequence to rival that of Braveheart or even Kenneth Branagh’s excellent Henry V, Mackenzie brings the movie home in expert fashion. It’s a superb finale to an above-average film, and those who take the time to watch it will be rewarded for their effort. (It seems much shorter than its two-hour runtime.)
Pine, proving he’s more than just Captain Kirk and Steve Trevor, builds on the outstanding performance he gave in Hell or High Water, and the largely little-known supporting cast (but for excellent Aaron Taylor-Johson as the gonzo Lord Douglas) largely follows suit. There are only a few weak links along the way, and for the most part, they’re (as expected) the cartoonish, ham-fisted villains.
Outlaw King’s primary flaw, though, is its oddly uneven pacing and occasional lack of flow. Just as Mackenzie gets a bit of a roll going, the action screeches to a halt before revving back up again; at times it’s a bit like riding shotgun with a driver’s ed student. But even that isn’t enough to keep Outlaw King from being among the year’s better options, whether from Netflix or otherwise. Pair it with Braveheart and a nice tankard of mead, and you got yourself a heck of a double feature.