TL;DR – It is a film that is completely serviceable, with some amazing action, but just comes off feeling lacking in many ways
Score – 3.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
This is a real odd duck of a film, even before it came out there were questions about its runtime and how it was edited together, with reports that over 20 minutes got cut for its final release. Add to this the only other thing it was noticeable for was a certain alleged scene involving Chris Pine and well, that was not a strong platform to release a film on. So, my real concern was – did taking a hatchet to the film trim it down to only its best parts, or did it turn it into a hacked up mess – and the answer is a bit of both. Now just a quick thing, I will let others more versed in Scottish history to comment on whether or not the film is accurate with history or not.
So to set the scene, it is the end of William Wallace’s rebellion and after many years trying to fight for Scottish independence the war was lost and it was time to take a knee. So it is here where Robert de Brus (James Cosmo) and his son Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) come with most of the Lords of Scotland to swear loyalty to the English crown and to Edward I (Stephen Dillane) and his son Edward the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle). It is a humiliating act, but it is one that is needed to keep the peace and to bring some order to the countryside. So while the English refuse to crown a new king of Scotland, Robert did get a new wife out of the deal in Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh) to help raise his daughter Marjorie (Josie O’Brien). Well, all is fine until the English find and then hang-draw-and-quarter William and send his remains across the country as a warning. Now the whole countryside is ablaze of revolution, there can be no peace when these are the people you are dealing with. After much thought, Robert decides that the bargains that the King of England have given are but a farce, and it is time to take action if only they could get all of Scotland to fight under the one banner. Which is a problem because the enemies of the Bruce’s the Comyn’s stand in the way, but maybe if Robert can reach John Comyn (Callan Mulvey) he can unite the factions.
While there is a lot of issues with Outlaw King, there is also quite a bit that the film did right. The first clear triumph of the film is the battle sequences, and indeed we get a couple of battle sequences throughout the film and they are all excellent. Part of this is because Barry Ackroyd and David Mackenzie know how to film action so that even with all the chaos on the screen you can still follow what is going on. As well as this, there is a lot of care put into how these action scenes are constructed and well there is obviously a lot of interesting practical and digital effects going on but they all come together. You can see this right at the start of the film where there is one long take with action and dialogue and the camera swinging around and it all flows together, to the point that if there were seams, they were not readily apparent.
As well as this, this film is all the better for being filmed on location in Scotland, in some of the most beautiful places in the world. Every frame is filled with detail from the coastlines to the highlands. Also just all the production, the costumers, the set designers, the people that dirty you up every take you are fighting in a battle it all works. This was added to with a really interesting soundtrack that blended a traditional orchestral score with older instruments that you don’t hear as often.
Where the film becomes a bit more mixed is in the acting which feels less organic and more situational. There are some really good performances in here, for example, I think Chris Pine gives a really compelling performance as Robert, and yes that scene that everyone is talking about did make the final cut. But for others it just felt like they were emoting in a scene, but that they have not become the characters that they were playing. Now part of this is that because there have been a lot of cuts, then some of the character growth moments are missing, so we the audience just might be lacking context but some of them just don’t work or fall into broad strokes like Noble v the Frat Guy, rather than nuanced performances.
This leads us to the edit, and well to put it kindly, it is a bit jumpy. In some places, we move through the story at a breakneck speed which means you are not left waiting but they are intercut with long drawn out moments which mean there is no real flow to the film. Add to this, even within sequences you can feel that drive to cut and it leads to some moments that just feel off like they have not taken the time to really get the rhythm right. This all means that it all piles up in places and it gets really noticeable. Given it is being distributed by Netflix and there is no longer a need to meet the requirements of a cinema and so you didn’t need to cut it into standard 90-minute film run, and it just feels like a missed opportunity.
In the end, do we recommend Outlaw King? Yes, I think we do. Part of this is because it is on Netflix you are not going to waste your money if the film does not jive with you. But there are some really clear sequences, and while the film does have its issues, they never were so problematic that they got in the way of the rest of the film. So while it could have been better, it was still quite entertaining.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Outlaw King
Directed by – David MacKenzie
Screenplay by – Bash Doran, David MacKenzie & James MacInnes with David Harrower & Mark Bomback
Based on – First War of Scottish Independence
Music by – Tony Doogan & Lucie Treacher
Cinematography by – Barry Ackroyd
Edited by – Jake Roberts
Starring – Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Josie O’Brien, Billy Howle, Tony Curran, Lorne MacFadyen, Alastair Mackenzie, James Cosmo, Callan Mulvey, Stephen Dillane, Steven Cree, Sam Spruell, Rebecca Robin, Stewart Brown, Lorne MacFadyen, Jack Greenlees & Chris Fulton
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: na; Germany: 16; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: 18; United States: R