Movie Review: “Outlaw King”

It has been more than 20 years since “Braveheart” hit movie theaters.    The film was incredibly well-received and no matter the issues with its star/director, the shadow of “Braveheart” is a long one. Netflix’s new “Outlaw King” picks up after the events of the earlier work, telling the story of Robert the Bruce (here played by Chris Pine) and what happened following William Wallace’s defeat.  That isn’t to say that the new movie purposefully attempts to draw comparisons, but there is no doubt it will.

As for “Outlaw King” itself, which is directed by David Mackenzie, how does it fare comparison free?  It is a movie which is absolutely mediocre.

Filled with gorgeous views and some impressive camerawork by director of photographer, Barry Ackroyd, the movie in fact does a wonderful job mixing the beautiful with the horrible. While the scenery may be gorgeous, the violence is utterly brutal.  Robert the Bruce, as presented, is unquestionably fighting the good fight, but it is not a particularly glamorous war that he is waging.

On the other hand, “Outlaw King” doesn’t have much in the way of story to offer.  There are a whole lot of characters, including Robert the Bruce’s brothers, and some of the men who fight for him who clearly have motivations and things of their own happening, but the movie treats these characters and motivations as though they are well known to the audience throughout. They are not.  In fact, with the number of characters running around, this reviewer was slow to realize at one point in the movie that an individual on screen was one of the aforementioned brothers.

And at this point I must state that the version of “Outlaw King” Netflix is releasing is, apparently, 20 minutes shorterthan the version which screened earlier this year at TIFF.*  Not having seen the earlier version, I cannot state whether the longer one made better sense of the characters, but knowing that the other version exists makes me wonder.

*Wise readers will also note that link that the film review on Indiewire mentions “Braveheart,” something of which I was unaware when I wrote the “Braveheart” stuff above.

The majority of the story that is presented here the distinct feels of an epilogue, and could feature the opening words, “this is what happened once William Wallace was defeated… see ‘Braveheart’ for more,” instead of the introduction that it presents.  The tale is certainly not unimportant, but it feels less momentous.

This is unfortunate, because Pine is wonderful.  He draws the viewer in, making one feel the hope and sorrow Robert the Bruce experiences. The way in which Robert treats his new wife, Elizabeth (Florence Pugh), is a thing to marvel at, as is Elizabeth’s strength.  But, the movie doesn’t provide a whole lot of time to see this couple’s relationship form and grow.  It instead rushes off to the renewed fight Robert and his allies wage against the British, lead by King Edward (Stephen Dillane) and the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle).

At this point, “Outlaw King” lacks scope.  It hops from one moment in the war to the next to the next, rarely situating the viewer before moving along.  Each individual scene may work, but they don’t string together well into something larger.

In short, “Outlaw King” is an exceptionally frustrating movie.  It is beautifully shot.  It is well-acted.  It has wonderfully intense battles.  It feels real, putting the viewer down there in the muck and mud amongst the soldiers. One can almost smell the death. At the same time, those individual moments don’t come together to offer a complete picture of a moment, or a movement. Instead, they are just wonderful, separate, scenes.  It is not “Braveheart,” might it might make for a wonderful double feature.

 

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photo credit: Netflix

 

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