Is Outlaw King, directed by David Mackenzie, Netflix’s direct answer to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart? Where William Wallace’s tale ends, Robert the Bruce’s (Chris Pine) begins. After the guerrilla war against England, Scotland falls under the rule of Edward I (Stephen Dillane). It doesn’t take long for Bruce to learn that oppressor is even crueler than expected. With the support of the Scottish Church, he declares himself the King of Scotland and slowly builds his own rebellion; and whereas Gibson’s Scots were proudly running around in kilts, Mackenzie’s dress theirs in medieval fashion, correcting the historical inaccuracy of its predecessor.
Prior to the rebellion and Robert’s coronation, Robert marries Edward I’s goddaughter, Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh) to ease the tension between the English and the Scots. And so, the struggle begins. Robert becomes the King – they call him the Outlaw King – however, with the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle) hunting him, the plan to liberate Scotland is much more difficult than anticipated. Along come allies, Angus MacDonald (Tony Curran) and hotblooded James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Besides them, Mackenzie not only draws on the strong character of the Robert the Bruce, but also that of Elizabeth, who quickly becomes a co-conspirator with her husband, which has its consequences…
The film mostly depicts Robert’s battles against the English while attempting to prepare the revolution. And when the main fight comes, the audience witnesses the Hollywood heart-throb Chris Pine, in the middle of the muddy battlefield, smashing the Scottish accent, screaming to his fellow ‘knights’ as his character finally presents himself as the hero of the Scots. However, it is all too familiar, and the scene strongly resembles the Braveheart’s famous freedom speech. Annoyingly, Outlaw King turns into a bad version of Gibson’s film; if it wasn’t for the stunning cinematography, music and performances, the entire film would have turned out to be sloppy. Chris Pine is electrifying as he brings Robert the Bruce to life; his passionate portrayal of the king truly stands out throughout the film.
Outlaw King takes the audience on a voyage into the phenomenal Scottish highlands. Using drones, wide-shots of broad scenery and superb close-ups of boggy lands, the viewers might feel like they themselves landed in Billy Connolly’s land. Even without the Scots running in kilts, Mackenzie harmonizes his characters with the landscape; in addition, he shows that the land is for the people, and not the other way round – “we work with what the land has to offer” says the King.
Sadly, narrative-wise, the film is just too chaotic; action jumps from one place to another without proper narrative developments, including lack of character growth for Angus MacDonald and James Douglas. Outlaw King feels like a first episode of a lengthy television show – the end of the film leaves a viewer dissatisfied.
I wished the film lived up to its potential, but it turned out to be disappointing on many levels; and apparently, it took five years to write the screenplay. Five years?! Why did the screenplay turn out so weak? It really is unfortunate for the Scottish filmmaker; this was his passion project.
Outlaw King was fully financed by Netflix and will be released in November 2018. Still, even with its flaws, the film is worth seeing on the silver screen, simply for the cinematography itself.