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Review: Outlaw King

In only a few years Netflix has become a game-changer in how we view film and television content, becoming one of the most influential media companies of the 21st century. Largely due to a focus towards audience consumption, and coming soon to the iconic streaming service is David Mackenzie’s new adventure into medieval history and Scottish liberation: Outlaw King.

This film marks another attempt by the famous digital distributor (as well as its production companies Sigma Films and Anonymous Content) at cracking the big-budget film market. And in doing so they’ve created a concise dramatization of how renowned 14th century Scot, Robert The Bruce, journeyed across land and sea to fight the larger and oppressive English army as they occupy his country.

It’s a classic David v Goliath story, with playing pieces reminiscent of present day Brexit. Maybe that’s a stretch when considering the nitty-gritty details, but a film about Scottish independence after the current Brexit breakdowns must be more than somewhat coincidental.

And before we go further, here’s a real stick in the mud to any rhythmic wording I may have as I warn you that this review will include SPOILERS!…I mean, it’s a drama based on real historic events, there’s not much to spoil if any of you have ever taken a History class before but I know some of you will still want to go in completely blind. Anyhow, onward…

Looking at this closer, the film follows Robert (played by the Hollywood star Chris Pine) as he goes from a timid follower to a slap-dashed King to a beaten-down yet unwavering leader. It’s not the most complicated or thought-provoking character arc ever put to screen, but it’s grounded in a primal need for freedom and frankly that notion is good enough to allow Pine’s charismatic, stoic energy to carry the film.

This is also helped by the powerful supporting cast who really engulf us into their world of Scottish history; with Florence Pugh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Billy Howle being particular standouts. Pugh pulls off an endearing perspective on King Robert via her portrayal as his wife Elizabeth De Burgh. Taylor-Johnson strikes forward a brutally mad performance as allied warrior James Douglas. And Howle personally stunned me by bringing a heavy layer of believable pain to the cowardly and weaseling opposing force that is Prince Edward of Wales.

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As gripping as these performances are however, that doesn’t stop the film from often halting before it gets into any innovative development, or desperately feeling like it deserved a few additional epic moments. That isn’t all bad as it does work wonders towards the homely Netflix format, providing a surprisingly street-level perspective on a grand tragedy, and growing war that will surely bring something intimate to the audience experience. But the issue remains that it still doesn’t always support the nationwide perspective of the King’s proud mission.

This also isn’t helped by the fact that 20 minutes of the film were cut after its TIFF premiere, which unfortunately are fairly noticeable not only in a slightly jumpy plot but also the bare-bones pacing of its scenes. Granted, I saw this film a couple of weeks ago at the London Film Festival, so maybe these editing mishaps could have changed since its worldwide release, but that is rather unlikely.

If this does turn out to have changed, I’ll gladly retract these comments and update this review. Until then…the editing doesn’t make it unwatchable, I reassure you this isn’t a Suicide Squad or Fantastic Four mess, but it does have more than a few jarring cuts that stick out in times that crucially need our investment.

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Not too much else stands out apart from the organic acting and its mixed bag of editing, although I will quickly add that I was quite fond of its opening and battle cinematography (especially given the budget) as well as how all the other elements play to a pleasant degree. So in total, this film isn’t perfect but it is enjoyable and certainly a MASSIVE improvement for Netflix compared to their previous high-budget film ventures such as Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox.

There’s a lot more to be said about its place in Netflix and even more for my off-the-cuff Brexit comparison, but in both cases maybe it would be best to leave that for a while as we see what the general public truly make of this film and what they even make of those entities themselves. Basically, if you like fairly accurate historical dramas then you should give Outlaw King a try. It’s good, Pine and Pugh put in charming performances that are worth a viewing in itself, and it’s an inspiring tale with a message that’s as old as time.

Heck, if you even clicked on this review you should probably give the movie a try just because it has such a cinematic scale yet is so easily accessible within the comfort of your own home. This film can be whatever it is but that doesn’t matter because most of all you can watch it however you want and really we should all embrace more movies. Watch it, because you can. That’s the power of Netflix.

Oh ALSO, there’s AT LEAST three shots in the film where depressing actions are going on in the foreground all whilst there’s bright rainbows shining in the background skyline and it’s rad and it makes me want Mackenzie to re-title this film as “The Ironic Collective of Scottish Rainbows!” Just saying.

Outlaw King is to be released worldwide on November 9th 2018 via the online streaming service Netflix. The film is directed by David Mackenzie and stars Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, Stephen Dillane, and Tony Curran.

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