Director: David Mackenzie
Starring: Chris Pine, Florence Pugh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stephen Dillane, Billy Howle, Tony Curran, Callan Mulvey
Oh Netflix, you sly wee dogs, you.
Years and years of throwing out average or just plain horrid original movies have left the studio in a limbo of sorts. The stigma of “Netflix Original”/”A Netflix Film” on a poster and the muddied reputation the studio has garnered means any new release is initially met with muted expectations – not at all what any studios needs for their movies before release. However, with the praise showered on Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, the upcoming The Irishman and (possibly) Andy Serkis’ Mowgli, things are starting to look a lot different for the streaming giants.
Hell or High Water helmer David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King is the latest movie released directly to streaming and with it brings another collaboration with Chris Pine and also the considerable talents of Florence Pugh and Stephen Dillane. It tells the story of Robert the Bruce (Pine), who was crowned King of Scotland after the conquering-King of England Edward I (Dillane) reneges on his peace agreement (and also slaughters the Scottish hero William Wallace) causing an upsurge in the simmering rebellion north of the border. The English army massively outnumbers the diminished numbers of the Scots army causing Robert to go into exile, all whilst his new-wife Elizabeth (Pugh) and daughter are captured by Edwards’s dastardly son, the Prince of Wales, Edward (Howle, sporting a horrendous bowl cut) and all roads lead to the climactic, historical Battle of Loudoun Hill.
Now, Chris Pine isn’t Scottish. He’s very much American. But with his thick-set, dreamy beard and surprisingly decent Scottish accent, he becomes a fine fit for the role to the point that I forgot I was watching Pine. Whilst he may not get the blood pumping like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace did, he is certainly very good within the role - whether stabbing rivals in the face or contemplating battle in the silent moments. After delivering a knockout performance in 2017’s magnificent Lady Macbeth, Florence Pugh once again showcases her abilities as Robert’s strong and stoic wife Elizabeth and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is wired as the maniacal warrior James Douglas in an unexpectedly good performance. The characterisations across the board weren’t particularly deep, however, so if you really want to know about the characters, fire up the Google.
I’m going to put my neck on the line now and say that Scotland has never been captured as beautifully in any other film than it is here. The sweeping Middle Earth-esque landscape shots capture the settings superbly and the shots of the lochs, mountains and sprawling countryside (complete with ubiquitous heather) are both mesmerising and majestic. Hats off, Barry Ackroyd. Alongside those, the action scenes are well-shot and unflinching in their brutality (hello gizzards!) despite actually lacking any large scope or scale. The restrained score from Tony Doogan and Lucie Treacher is complementary to the on-screen happenings even if it isn’t the most memorable score you’ll hear in recent times.
Not everything worked – the time covered in the movie isn’t always clear and Billy Howle’s Edward is a bit too snivelling to be taken seriously. I’ve mentioned the scope of the movie and, for me, the scale could have been just that bit bigger to really achieve that 'epic' status the movie should have been gunning for – despite this being a David vs. Goliath tale.
Outlaw King isn’t Braveheart, and though it doesn’t necessarily aspire to be that movie, it does act as a fine unofficial cousin to it. Now-Scottish Chris Pine is confident and solid leading the movie and Pugh is again excellent and together with stunning visuals and frantic action, the majority of the movie combines to create a very, very good offering. For a Netflix movie, Outlaw King is excellent. As a movie, Outlaw King is extremely good.
Oh, as is the norm for historical movies, you get boobs and nudity – this time, though, it’s Chris Pine going tackle out.
November 9th 2018