Outlaw King, 2018.
Directed by David Mackenzie.
Starring Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, Tony Curran, Alistair Mackenzie, James Cosmo, Callan Mulvey, and Stephen Dillane.
An epic story about the renowned King of Scots, Robert the Bruce, and the war of liberation he waged against the English occupation of Scotland.
Director David Mackenzie and star Chris Pine reunite after their film Hell or High Water in the historical fiction epic, Outlaw King. Following the early reign of Scottish king Robert the Bruce, the film explores the beginnings of his rebellion against the English to regain Scotland’s independence. The film, which will hit Netflix in November, is entertaining with Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) and Billy Howle (On Chesil Beach) giving the most memorable performances of the film. Where Outlaw King really excels at, though, is in its technical aspects through its natural lighting, cinematography and brutal battles.
Pine gives a fairly strong performance as Robert the Bruce throughout the film. He displays the qualities of a leader, but takes the take to show Robert’s growth from his initial submission to Edward I to reluctance in beginning another rebellion and finally accepting his role and birthright. His chemistry with the cast is believable, particularly with his wife Elizabeth, played by Florence Pugh, and James Douglas, his fierce and loyal right-hand man from Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The only thing to detract from Pine’s performance is his Scottish accent that slips in some scenes, though its good for the most part. Even still, Pine delivers a good performance that shows why Robert the Bruce remains such an iconic hero in Scottish history.
Pine does get a bit upstaged in some scenes though by Johnson’s Douglas, who is a little axe-crazy with a vendetta against the English after they took his family’s land. He’s a fairly unpredictable force throughout the film and relishes the battle sequences as he screams like a madman and gets covered in blood in the fights. Johnson also delivers some of the film’s few comedic elements as he just does not care for English customs and lets them know it during some of the quieter scenes he has with English soldiers or his fellow Scotsman. Florence Pugh gives a good performance as Elizabeth and has some good chemistry with Pine as their characters grow to love and respect one another, though Pugh doesn’t have too much to do in the film, especially in the latter half.
Billy Howle is also a standout as Edward, Prince of Wales. He hams it up a little bit, but delivers a good performance as the arrogant son of Stephen Dillane’s King Edward I who not only seeks his father’s approval, but the respect and glory he feels owed to him from his men and Scotland. He’s got a lot of energy to him in his scenes and makes a great foil for Robert. Despite the ridicule he gets from his father though, he’s not a sympathetic villain through his various acts of cruelty that make you root for Robert even more. Howle is one of the most entertaining aspects of the film.
As mentioned before, Outlaw King‘s technical process really makes the film look great from a visual standpoint. Mackenzie uses entirely natural light to shoot the film, from the sun to candles in the rooms. It really gives the film an authentic medieval look, particularly in its battle sequences. The final battle goes through all manner of lighting from overcast to the sun shining down on them. There’s even a moment where Pine finds himself hiding in a cave which is beautifully shot and lit. It’s an impressive feat, though the film’s natural light comes at the cost of some scenes looking just a bit too dark or confusing during the battle sequences where it becomes difficult to tell fighters apart.
The strength of the film’s visual is reinforced by its cinematography. The camera movements are very fluid and gives a lot of great visuals to the story. It opens with an almost 10-minute tracking shot that moves in and out tents and even includes a well-choreographed sword fight in the middle. The cinematography uses the natural lighting to its advantage throughout the film and makes the battle scenes feel very gritty and real. The battles are akin to Braveheart or Game of Thrones‘ ‘Battle of the Bastards’ with plenty of intense visual imagery as men get sliced open, horses downed and the fighters caked in blood and mud. As said, it can make it a bit difficult to tell certain actors apart during the climax once they really get into it, but its entertaining nonetheless.
Outlaw King moves along at a fairly nice pace. There’s a couple points in the middle where the film slows down a little bit, but its more to serve Robert’s journey as he realizes how best to fight the English and protect his people. However, what also helps the film’s pace is how short some scenes are, moving from one scene or point in time to the next rather quickly. It doesn’t always give scenes room to breath, but the short scenes often manage to convey a characters emotions well even in its briefness. Mackenzie displays a good eye for the film’s visuals and what to focus on during the long and short scenes. The film’s costume design is also great with the cast wearing some pretty close to authentic period clothing clothing and armour. The variety of what they wear just adds to the film’s distinct visuals.
What Mackenzie ultimately delivers is an entertaining story that doesn’t just focus on the big battles, but Robert the Bruce’s journey from nobleman to king that has a great visual eye to it. Outlaw King‘s visuals and lighting give audiences an authentic feel while Pine delivers a strong performance as Robert that is helped by his supporting cast. The gritty battles are well shot and tense to watch despite getting confused with who’s who in the fight. It’s just a shame, though that Outlaw King will be mostly watched on Netflix instead of the big screen to fully take advantage of the cinematography, lighting and spectacle it offers.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★