Netflix turns out rousing historical epic with ‘Outlaw King’

Outlaw King on Netflix: Does Chris Pine really bare all in Netflix historical drama? OUTLAW KING is another Netflix step in the direction of bonafide critically-acclaimed movies. But does Chris Pine really bare all in the historical drama? Outlaw King: Netflix's Outlaw King features Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce (Image: Netflix)

Serving as a sort of unofficial sequel to 1995’s “Braveheart,” “Outlaw King” tells the story of King Robert the Bruce’s efforts to win Scottish independence from the English crown. This film marks a major step for Netflix in the field of motion pictures, as this is their first foray into historical epics. One of the first things that stands out while watching this is the sheer spectacle of it. The production value of this film is just as high, if not higher, than any theatrically released feature.

The two strongest elements of the film are its cinematography and production design. Much like how “The Lord of the Rings” films occasionally seemed like tourism ads for New Zealand, this film relies heavily on the beautiful natural landscapes of Scotland. This looks like it was meant to be seen on the big screen, not your laptop, and is easily a shoo-in for Best Cinematography come awards season. The costumes are also stunning, authentically capturing the real clothing worn during that time period. Gone are the kilts from “Braveheart” that caused so much ire among historians.

In fact, “Outlaw King” tried to right many of the historical wrongs done by “Braveheart,” giving audiences a much more truthful, realistic picture of medieval Scotland. We are given historically accurate representations of Robert the Bruce, the lifestyle of Scottish nobility, the death of King Edward I and real medieval warfare. Whereas “Braveheart” was derided for favoring cinematic style to accurate representations of combat, this film achieves both spectacularly, offering up some of the best medieval battle sequences ever put to screen.

Even though this film tries to erase some of the misconceptions found in “Braveheart,” it wisely chooses not to tread the same historical ground. William Wallace is mentioned but is only seen after his death, in the form of a severed arm in one scene and a mounted head in another. In this way, the film is not trying to remake or outdo “Braveheart,” but instead wishes to tell a new and compelling story from the Scottish War for Independence.

The film also sports some very good performances. Chris Pine (“Star Trek”) stars as Robert the Bruce, playing him as a thoughtful, pensive man who acts out of what is best for his people even when he suffers personal loss. Florence Pugh (“Lady Macbeth”) is also very good as Robert’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh. While Pugh is not given as much screen time as many of the other characters, she gives the character great confidence and personality that make her memorable.

By far, the best performance in the movie comes from Aaron Taylor-Johnson (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”) as James Douglas, a member of the once-great House of Douglas, who longs for vengeance against the British for their theft of his family’s lands. Taylor-Johnson seems to be having the time of his life in this film, turning in a performance so energetic and over-the-top that it is impossible not to enjoy.

For all of these reasons, it pains me to not give the film a higher rating. Unfortunately, there are a few areas where “Outlaw King” is not so strong. To start, the editing is occasionally choppy, leading to the film feeling rushed. Many scenes seem to have been cut too short, leading to slightly jarring transitions. This is disappointing, as I have read that the director, David Mackenzie (“Hell or High Water”), cut almost 20 minutes from the film since its premiere in Toronto.

There are definitely a few areas where more material could have greatly improved the film. Some character introductions and exits are dealt with very quickly, when adding more depth would have been welcome. There is also no clear sense of time, making events which took years seem to have occurred within months.

Another issue with the film is its villain. While Stephen Dillane (“Game of Thrones”) is menacing as King Edward I, the main villain of the film is Edward’s son, Edward II, played by Billy Howle (“Dunkirk”). The character suffers from generic writing and a bit of a cartoonish performance from Howle. He is even given a ridiculous haircut which makes him seem more like a buffoon than an intimidating villain.

These issues don’t keep “Outlaw King” from being good. They just stop it from living up to its full potential. I still recommend this movie to anyone with a Netflix account. It is visually stunning and has a lot of really fun, entertaining moments. The only warning that I will give is that the film is brutally violent, giving very realistic depictions of warfare and gore. For anyone not bothered by that, definitely check this one out.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.