OUTLAW KING REVIEW

If you’ve ever watched Braveheart and thought, “What happened after all that?”, have I got a film for you! It’s called Outlaw King, and it’s an unrelentingly brutal, often funny, haphazardly edited affair. Outlaw King had its big debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, and will debut on Netflix on November 9, 2018.

Hell or High Water director David Mackenzie reunites with star Chris Pine to tell the ultra-violent story of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots. Pine makes the most of the role, and his Scottish accent is surprisingly strong. He brings a stoic rage to the part – a good chunk of the movie involves one of his eyes twitching as he looks at someone or something with terrifying fury.

The film picks up on the heels of the events or Braveheart – William Wallace’s Scottish rebellion against England has failed, and the Scottish nobles have decided to play ball with Edward I (Stephen Dillane, charmingly smarmy). This means Robert the Bruce has to suck up his pride, kiss the ring, and agree to peace.

The peace is extremely short-lived. Almost immediately, Robert regrets the decision, and decides to relaunch the rebellion. The problem: not all the Scots see him as their true king, and his support is meager, to say the least. In fact, some of his own countrymen want him dead. This puts Robert, his many brothers, and his new wife Elizabeth (a fiery and charming Florence Pugh, doing the best she can with an underwritten part) in grave danger.

That’s the basic setup, but what Outlaw King is really interested in is staging shockingly violent battles. I’m not the least bit squeamish, and there are far more violent films than Outlaw King. But the violence on display here is ferocious to the point of being exhausting. I get it: these were brutal times, and this is a brutal story. But Outlaw King falls into a pattern: Robert and his men travel somewhere, they get attacked, lots and lots of people explode in bursts of blood and gore. Lather, rinse, repeat. As good as Pine and Pugh may be, not everyone around them measures up.

The worst offender is Billy Howle, playing the villainous Prince of Wales, the future Edward II. Howle’s interpretation of the character boils down to “this guy screams a lot,” and little else. Scene after scene, Howle’s evil prince shrieks and howls and spits. There’s a lengthy scene near the end of the film where he crawls across a muddy battlefield screaming his head off while others watch him silently. It goes on and on, to the point where I started looking around the theater to see if anyone else was as perplexed as I was. In Howle’s defense, almost everyone shouts their head off in this film. But he takes it to the extreme. 

But when you get down to it, all the performances are secondary to the battles. Mackenzie’s direction during the battle scenes is strong, loaded with a deft blend of style and realism. The filmmaker gets up close and personal, putting the audience right into the melee. Every hit, every slice, every stab is felt, aided by supremely well-mixed sound. When swords clang against each other here, you can feel the entire world shake. The look of the fight scenes is also often stunning. One lengthy battle in a forest set on fire, full of flickering flames casting shadows, is downright breathtaking. It’s impressive.

What’s not impressive: the script. Credited to five different writers, Outlaw King’s script is loaded with clunky, stilted dialogue that never sounds natural. “Wallace wasn’t a man, he was an idea!” one person yells at one point. “He continues to evade you!” Pugh’s Elizabeth is forced to say later. It doesn’t work, at all. The editing is also a mess – loaded with jarring smash-cuts and strange juxtapositions that come across as comical when they’re probably not supposed to.

That said, there are some intentionally funny moments in the film. Quite a lot, in fact. And thank god for that. Were it not for these frequent bursts of humor, Outlaw King would be far too dire to sit through. One of my favorite comedic moments involved a woman running towards her husband after a long separation. The music swells romantically, and it looks as if she’s running to embrace him lovingly. Instead, she slaps him hard across the face, and shouts, “Where the fuck have you been?”

As welcomed as these funny beats are, they don’t fit with the rest of the film, with its unrelentingly bleak focus on death and dismemberment. By the time Outlaw King comes to its close, you’ll be left feeling utterly drained. Not even the frequent singing is enough to keep the film from dragging. And when I say “frequent”, I mean it – Outlaw King is practically a musical, with scene after scene of men singing ballads before going into battle. In one scene, Pine’s Robert sings a prayer, only for the scene to then cut to Pugh’s Elizabeth singing the prayer in another location as well. It’s like the scene in Magnolia where everyone starts singing Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up”, but with more dirt and grime. 

Is Outlaw King a complete bust? As mindless as the battles might seem, they are often exhilarating. And the chemistry between Pine and Pugh is delightful, to the point where I wish they’d go off and make a romantic comedy together instead of this. Aaron Taylor-Johnson also makes an impression as an utterly bat-shit crazy member of Robert’s army, fond of screaming his family name – Douglas – as he’s slaughtering people. Fans of endless battle sequences (and brief Chris Pine nudity) will likely find something to enjoy about Outlaw King while watching, but the reign of this King is brief. The moment the credits roll, you’ll be ready to consign this epic to the history books.

/Film rating: 6 out of 10

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author

Chris Evangelista is a staff writer for /Film. He's contributed to CutPrintFilm, RogerEbert.com, Nerdist, Mashable, and more. Follow him on Twitter @cevangelista413 or email him at chris@chrisevangelista.net