Movie Review: 'Outlaw King' (2018)

In an exhilarating twist, Netflix's "Outlaw King" is an outlaw movie and a costume epic that compromises on delivering, neither. Director David Mackenzie has united the subgenres to create something that is both fresh and familiar.

The film chronicles the true story of Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine). Picking up shortly after the Bruce's submission to King Edward I, “Outlaw King” zeroes in on a tense moment in history. If you are familiar with it, what comes next will not come as a complete shock.

As the movie moves through its early chapters, the Bruce is discontented and haunted by the terms of his submission to King Edward I. Then William Wallace is brutally executed, which proves to be the final straw. The Bruce decides the fight for Scotland is not over. Unfortunately for him, his resources are limited. Add to that his decision to take out a hurdle himself and things are off to a rocky start.

King Edward I does not take his enemy's ambitions, lightly. He acknowledges the threat and brands Robert the Bruce, an outlaw. While in another move, the "dragon banner" is lifted, signaling the end of chivalry. Thus, setting into motion a chain of harrowing and frequently, gruesome events.

There are a lot of moments where “Outlaw King” is reminiscent of its television predecessors. It is as brutal as "Game of Thrones," as suspenseful as "The White Queen," and as twisty a tale as "Vikings." Still, the Netflix film manages to carve out something that is entirely its own.

For instance, the fights feel real. The choreography slick enough to be cinematic and sloppy-enough to appear authentic. As it should be depicted -- the battle for glory is pretty ugly.

As he did with "Hell or High Water," director David Mackenzie finds the neo-Western vibe in a movie teeming with the genre's ragged energy. He digs into those reserves with finesse. “Outlaw King” is terrifically approached with a captivating balance that finds synergy in drama, the need for brief beats of comic relief, full-throttle action, and of course, romance.

When our story begins, the Bruce is introduced as a widower with a young daughter. "Outlaw King" manages to utilize a brief bit of time to establish him as a good and caring father, who continues to deeply mourn his late wife. The Bruce's life as a family man remains central to the story throughout. His family never far from his mind.

It is here that the movie solidifies itself as a human drama that acknowledges its subject in the many roles he lives in life. That of the father to a young daughter and the leader of men. Accordingly, you are quickly introduced to everything he is fighting for and has at stake.

Per the arrangement meted out before the film starts, he is eventually married to his second wife, Elizabeth (Florence Pugh). It is a relationship just starting out when the Bruce becomes an outlaw king.

Accordingly, the romance between the Bruce and his new bride unfolds in a brisk and well-realized fashion. Their love story as much a part of the fabric of "Outlaw King," as everything else. In what would have been treated solely as a subplot in many other films, “Outlaw King” proudly makes it one of its central thrusts.

In a surprisingly impactful scene, Elizabeth tells her new husband how she feels about his rebooted plans for the Kingdom of Scotland. It is not the dialogue we have recently been conditioned to hear, which makes it all the more unique. Here, the moment is stirring and earned.

The Netflix film rests in its calm moments as a gathering storm. Quiet yet contemplative. The next strike never far behind. One should be warned that it is a violent movie, which spares no brutality. “Outlaw King” clearly wants viewers to have that takeaway as it sees a child become a witness to horrible violence. No one is safe from its reach here.

Relying on its cast to bring the story home, Chris Pine gives his best dramatic performance to date. As Robert the Bruce, he does a great job portraying the Bruce as a father, husband, leader, warrior, and aspiring king.

There is a gravity, Pine plays every scene with here. He conveys the immense weight of the Bruce's decision and its ensuing emotional impact in a nuanced manner throughout the film's duration. All the while presenting the untrained ear with a commendable rendering of a Scottish accent.

Pine's supporting ensemble is well-cast. Florence Pugh impresses again. This time as Robert's spirited and caring wife.

As one of the Bruce's staunch supporters, Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives yet another mesmeric turn. His performance as James Douglas is electric and gritty with many layers in between.

A movie lives by its heroes and also dies by its villain, and “Outlaw King” has them both covered. Actor Billy Howle's turn as King Edward I'd vicious son provides the film with a towering villain.

In a story that's ending is already infamous, David Mackenzie's textbook historical drama will still leave you on edge and spellbound.

Rating: 7.8/10

"Outlaw King" is currently streaming on Netflix.

[Featured Image by Netflix]