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Outlaw King

Historical epics are hard to get right, if you’re chronicling the life of a rebel, like Mel Gibson did in Braveheart, it’s hard to strike the right balance between injustice by the oppressors, and downright caricature. David Mackenzie decided to take on the person of Robert the Bruce, a contemporary of William Wallace’s of Braveheart fame, and more successful in his endeavor to rebel from the English.

Outlaw King follows Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine), a Scottish lord in the early 14th century, who after seeing injustice done on his people, decides to rise up against the oppressive English monarch Edward I (Stephen Dillane) and later became a Scottish monarch.

The film came out on Netflix, but it takes great inspiration from classic big screen war movies. Director David Mackenzie, showed us that he was able to capture a sense of desolation and despair in empty open lands in his previous film: Hell or Highwater (also with Chris Pine), and this skill comes to great effect to show the solitude that Robert feels as he fights off loyalist Scots and English alike. Abandoning his daughter and new wife along the way for the sake of his homeland.

However, Mackenzie might have relied too heavily on gore and violence to show brutality and injustice (much like Gibson did), and forgets to infuse his dialogue with any electricity (he also co-wrote the film). Outlaw King does, thankfully, have scarce conversations, making the focus the movements and gestures of its characters instead; the viewer is all the more grateful for it.

In terms of the battles, Mackenzie tries to have as much action in one take as possible, avoiding cutting too much and having choppy sequences. The drawback here is that we begin to see the choreographed sword fights, as the actors are placing their swords in unnatural positions receiving blows, clearly holding back from putting forward all their strength. The result looks more like a school dance performance, than any life or death situation.

The film is infused with testimonial supporting performances from Florence Pugh as Robert’s wife and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a Scottish warrior. The latter brings wildness to the situation that allows us to see humans in a primal and violent survivalist mode. But Taylor-Johnson is somehow able to give his small supporting character a background meaning behind his eyes; you sense a troubled and complex past in him. Pugh, meanwhile, brings about a reality to her scenes that takes away the staleness of the dialogue and of her underwritten character. She brings about enough chemistry to the relationship between her and Pine to make up for the latter’s blandness. That’s not to blame Pine too much, but in both of Mackenzie’s films he’s struggled to build a multi-layered character, choosing a blank face as a default instead of infusing subtle flickers or life behind his eyes. The American movie star is so focused on getting his Scottish accent right that clearly the effort was too great for him to worry about anything else.

The result is a film that rises above mediocre history pieces, but never quite reaches the pinnacle that its funding and star-power promised. We’re left with a piece in no-man’s-land that entertains intermittently and sometimes fades into the poetic, but never breaking through to make its intended statement.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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