There’s something kind of enjoyable about an unintentional sequel…
Historical epics can on occasion be somewhat problematic but Outlaw King works well enough when you embrace the time period and setting and everyone sells the material quite well from beginning to end.
Outlaw King takes us to a time of great turmoil and the untold, true story of Robert The Bruce (Chris Pine) who transformed from defeated nobleman to reluctant King to outlaw hero over the course of an extraordinary year. Forced into battle in order to save his family, his people and his country from the oppressive English occupation of medieval Scotland, Robert seizes the Scottish crown and rallies a ragtag group of men to face off against the wrath of the world’s strongest army lead by the ferocious King Edward 1(Stephen Dillane) and his volatile son, the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle).
While it starts with a technically impressive shot with no cuts, Outlaw King actually kind of stumbles out of the gate until you finally realize that this is essentially an unofficial sequel to Braveheart it plays out in solid fashion.
Easily the largest film in scale ever done by director David Mackenzie, he steps up to the plate here on Outlaw King with something that takes in and appreciates some of the majestic countryside that he shoots in while still making it a very intimate story about the people of Scotland wanting out from under the boot of English oppression. Mackenzie, in this new cut since it screened at the Toronto International Film Festival shows a great sense of pace to the overall proceedings and in concert with him obviously getting to play around with some crane and tracking shots allows the film to feel epic. That isn’t to say we don’t get a sense of intimacy around the narrative either as it focuses pretty heavily on Robert The Bruce and not a great deal of time for any of the other supporting players. I’d suspect that this comes from a script that had five different people working on it (including Mackenzie himself) because at times it felt like it was playing a little too all over the map for it to truly hit home and resonate on an emotional level.
Chris Pine shows some genuine skills here as he does a more then acceptable Scottish brogue as Robert The Bruce. As he has with other roles he’s found a niche for playing flawed yet noble and heroic men and this stays comfortably in his wheel house as he keeps that up here. Is he the strongest leading man out there? Not really but he’s certainly a strong enough actor and good enough to pull off whatever might be required of him at any given time. Florence Pugh was strong opposite him in limited time as his wife Elizabeth Burgh and even though her diminutive stature is occasionally a shock she’s proven in the past and again here that she’s got more than enough in the tank to command the screen at any given time. Sadly the likes of Stephen Dillane as the King of England and Billy Howle as the Prince of Wales came off as blandly scowling and one dimensional at the best of times and sure there’s a cavalcade of recognizable faces in supporting roles in the film, no one other then Pine (and to a lesser extent Pugh) really get any moments to shine.
Ultimately, Outlaw King is a solid film for anyone looking for some true to life adventure and drama with people swing swords at each other in some cold but idyllic country side, but that being said it has been done better before.
Outlaw King is currently playing in a limited run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox here in Toronto as well as streaming on Netflix.