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MOVIES: (LFF 2018) Outlaw King - Review

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It was inevitable that there would be another film about Robert the Bruce given how much his story feels tailor made for Hollywood with its David vs Goliath-like nature, and in the age of Game of Thrones it makes sense that the film feels decidedly familiar, using that as an influence beyond just some crossover in the acting department, opting for a pacing structure that even echoes that of a television series, or rather more specifically, a Netflix television series, hitting the similiar beats that the network's shows tend to do. But that shouldn't come as a surprise given that after all, it is a Netflix original.

Chris Pine plays Robert the Bruce himself, the titular Outlaw King, who is declared a traitor to the Crown after his attempt to reclaim power following the failure of his previous rebellion. Picking up where Braveheart left off, with the actions of William Wallace always hanging over The Outlaw King like a shadow - in not only the narrative structure but also the fact that this film due to its very nature will be unable to avoid comparisons with the Mel Gibson drama, the film plunged us deep into the thick of things with a rebellion against what is billed as one of the strongest armies in the world at the time.

In his Hell or High Water follow-up, director David Mackenzie manages to attempt to combine a character-driven storyline with the look and feel of a grand, Lord of the Rings-style epic, attempting to bring depth to not only Robert the Bruce, but also Edward II, who is played by Billy Howle. The decision to focus on both sides of the conflict is at least a positive attempt to avoid glamorising just one side, and as a result the barbaric natures of both sides are shown. For example, the Scottish slaughter English soldiers who are praying weaponless in a Church, but only after the English have made the first blow, promising a single duel to the death to settle a fight the following morning only to attack en masse in the dead of night when the Scottish have their guard down.

It’s serviceable as a film, contemptible made with a messy final battle that feels very much like the approach was intentional. It’s hard to tell who’s who at times, and the claustrophobic, clumsy and uneven nature of the combat is era appropriate. The Game of Thrones comparisons are most appropriate here even moreso than anywhere else in this gritty, brutal film with a sweeping cavalry set-piece that echoes Battle of the Bastards.

It's worth paying attention to the supporting cast beyond that of Howle. Aaron Taylor-Johnson acts like a man possessed in his role, going for crazy and succeeding. You won’t be forgetting his performance as the barbaric James Douglas anytime soon. It’s also worth mentioning Florence Pugh’s performance here too, as although she doesn’t get the most screentime necessary to develop her character properly and as a result she feels like she could have been more than what she was (A Cersei Lannister or Daenerys Targaryen, she is not) , there’s only so much a film can do when its inspired by true events. Pugh and Pine’s chemistry in the short time that they spend together is good, even if their characters’ relationship isn’t entirely convincing due to how little they share the screen in the overall scheme of things.

It’s clear that The Outlaw King is going for the Game of Thrones market and fans of gritty medieval dramas will enjoy this one. It's easy to bill it as an historical Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, it's not quite up to the quality of Mackenzie's Hell or High Water, but what’s there is just about watchable, even if it is incredibly conventional for the epic that it’s trying to be. Once again it’s a shame that the majority of viewers will experience it on the small screen, but it’s probably a good thing as most will struggle to sit through it one sitting. A viewing of the edited down version suggests that it was a good thing the film was streamlined, and it serves as a reminder as to how just hit and miss Netflix can be.

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