'Outlaw King' review: David Mackenzie's war-drama starring Chris Pine entertains despite lacking nuance

David Mackenzie's historical war-drama 'Outlaw King' has been, for various reasons, one of the most talked about films of this year.


                            'Outlaw King' review: David Mackenzie's war-drama starring Chris Pine entertains despite lacking nuance

Ever since its opening at the Toronto Film Festival, David Mackenzie's historical war-drama 'Outlaw King' has been, for various reasons, one of the most talked about films of this year.

From showcasing lead actor Chris Pine's penis to putting up on-screen brutal war scenes that have been compared to the likes of HBO's 'Game of Thrones' - the Netflix film promised a lot. But several not so strikingly positive reviews from its initial opening phase later, when you finally witness the film in all its glory, the one thing that gets highlighted the most is what the initial reviews hadn't even hinted at. 'Outlaw King' should have received its own theatrical opening with the magic of 3D (which most might treat with distaste) zooming viewers through the highlands and lowlands of Scotland, and of course, with Pine's thick Scottish accent sort of offering a soothing background hum along the transcendental ride.

While transcendental might not come off as the most befitting choice of word for a war-drama, except for the prospect of Pine's earnest fans witnessing a blurry mess in the name full frontal nudity, what does capture the whole aura of 'Outlaw King' is the term gorefest. It's true, 'Outlaw King' comes off as a blatant consolation for all 'Game of Thrones' fans who missed the show this year and are running out of patience for its eighth and final season to arrive next year. 

Pine plays Robert the Bruce - the outlawed king of Scotland - who had led a rebellion against England in the 14th century, after first pledging his troth to Edward I, in an attempt to reclaim his throne. Starring opposite him as his loyal, brave wife Elizabeth is Florence Pugh, and for most Macbeth fans, this is a sweet reminiscence of her stern portrayal of Lady Macbeth. She is joined by Aaron Taylor Johnson, who plays Robert's wild sidekick, James Douglas. 

Speaking strictly of the characters, while Robert, Elizabeth, and James do look every bit like Robert, Elizabeth, and James should - and their words sound exactly the way their accent should undulate - the one thing missing is nuance.

Nuance in articulating the brazenness that a brutal, gory war drama should collectively call for, and also, a certain sense of nuance in each portrayal individually. And that starts with the most promising aspect of the movie - Chris Pine's nude scene - turning out to be an absolute sham leaving fans limp with disappointment. So this should be your cue to leave if you were expecting a detailed thousand or so words glorifying just how wholesome it was to witness his modesty.

Chris Pine from 'Outlaw King.' Source: Netflix.
Chris Pine from 'Outlaw King.' Source: Netflix.

While Pine does happen to be the most overhyped aspect of the movie, and there's no doubt about his perfectly sculpted appearance drawing in the fans, what's sad is his execution of Robert the Bruce.

True, it is a vast responsibility to match up with the ripped depictions in 'Game of Thrones', but it's like throughout the two hours and a spare minute of the film, all he did was sulk and brood. For the lack of a better example, it brings back memories of Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen in the 'Twilight' movies. 

But even that isn't enough to plummet the Netflix production into a sinkhole that some of its latest ventures have been shoved into. For Florence Pugh breathes a fresh air with her unique representation of an imprisoned queen, bearing the consequences of her king's actions. As strong a lady as Elizabeth de Burgh might have really been, Pugh's portrayal of the character makes one feel a sense of pride(?) in being trapped inside a cage, and left hanging off the castle for months - as derogatory a protocol as that sounds. Disclaimer: It's not the punishment we are glorifying here though; the uninhibition in Pugh's remarkable acting is what sets this drama apart. Primarily because her arc doesn't steep towards a galaxy of success and accomplishments like Khaleesi's from 'Game of Thrones' does. 

Florence Pugh as Elizabeth in Outlaw King. Source: Netflix.
Florence Pugh as Elizabeth in Outlaw King. Source: Netflix.

Sadly, as poignantly as her performance stands apart, somehow the main battle that 'Outlaw King' was expected to have centered around, gets blurred and lost amidst all the other several, simultaneous bloody ordeals going on.

Robert the Bruce sees a prime rival in the form of the snivelly Edward II (Billy Howle) who has been tasked to suppress the rebellion, but even that subplot is somehow subsumed because there are so many battles to keep track of. And we're talking a lot despite the film being cut 17 minutes short of its initially screened runtime.

And this is where despite several comparisons with the Mel Gibson classic 'Braveheart', 'Outlaw King's third and last issue springs up: the pacing. Granted the film is a Netflix movie, meaning no getting impatient with the theatre ambience, but there was so much potential for this riveting war drama to have been created in a stretched out format. Simply put, some of the developments in the plot are so haphazardly put that it almost puts viewers at a lack of breath, when it comes to figuring out the details of what is leading to what. Which is what has me so personally convinced that perhaps a grand theatrical viewing would have allowed fans the liberty to make their own haven of grandeur around the many different developments in the film.

Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce in Outlaw King. Source: Netflix.
Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce in Outlaw King. Source: Netflix.

Again with the nuances, but the lack of it is not entirely a cardinal sin. Unless you take into account that Mackenzie's previous projects have earned Academy Award nominations and suddenly 'Outlaw King' seems like a slight underachiever in the slew. Apart from that, 'Outlaw King' is pretty spotless if you view it from the gore-war-drama perspective, and by the looks of it, there won't be any shortage of reminders that this is exactly that.

So if you're a fan of bloodbaths and brutal rage, this is your holy trinity with a dash of attractive men with swoon-worthy accents. And even if you're not, the film doesn't fail to make its mark as a wholesome historic saga of battles and defeat. Somewhere along the lines, all the bloodshed is supposed to blur out a few lines, and luckily for 'Outlaw King' these fine lines are what most critics would label as drawbacks. It's compact, brimming with action and that's what makes the whole 121-minute watch so entertaining.