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On Netflix: OUTLAW KING (2018)

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OUTLAW KING
(UK/US - 2018)

Directed by David Mackenzie. Written by Bash Doran, David Mackenzie, James MacInnes, David Harrower and Mark Bomback. Cast: Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Stephen Dillane, Billy Howle, Sam Spruell, Tony Curran, Callan Mulvey, James Cosmo, Steven Cree, Alastair Mackenzie, Chris Fulton, Lorne MacFadyen, Jack Greenlees, Josie O'Brien, Jonny Phillips, Tam Dean Burn. (R, 121 mins)

A longtime pet project of Scottish-born HELL OR HIGH WATER director David Mackenzie, OUTLAW KING tells the story of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots from 1306 until his death in 1329. The film takes place at the same time as the events depicted in Mel Gibson's BRAVEHEART (where Robert the Bruce was played by Angus MacFadyen). Sir William Wallace is invoked frequently, though his screen time is limited to a cameo by his severed arm following his execution. Like Wallace, Robert (played here by Chris Pine) took part in the rebellion against King Edward I of England (Stephen Dillane), who was asked to help choose a successor to Scotland's throne when the king had no heirs and promptly ended up claiming the land for himself. As the film opens in 1303, Robert is among the rebels begrudgingly pledging fealty to King Edward at the request of his acquiescing father (the great James Cosmo, also in BRAVEHEART and whose appearance in these sorts of medieval period pieces is apparently required by law), who sees it as the best option, as the alternative is execution.






The widower Robert, whose wife died several years earlier giving birth to their daughter Marjorie (Josie O'Brien), is also given King Edward's god-daughter Elizabeth Burgh (Florence Pugh) as part of the deal. The sense of peace and complacency doesn't last long: inheriting the title of the Earl of Carrack upon his father's death (their relationship is portrayed quite differently here than in BRAVEHEART), Robert is outraged to learn of the execution of Wallace and decides to reignite the rebellion against King Edward. Seeking an ally in rival John III Comyn (Callan Mulvey), Robert is denied and when Comyn threatens to turn him over to King Edward's forces, he impulsively murders him. He confesses his crime to the church, which agrees to give him absolution and pledge its fealty if he can defeat King Edward and reclaim Scotland. Crowned "King of Scots," Robert the Bruce and his loyal army are joined by displaced nobleman James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) as King Edward's forces, led by his sniveling, power-crazed son Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle) and the King's chief attack dog Aymer de Valance (Sam Spruell), proceed into Scotland, eventually capturing Elizabeth and Marjorie.


With its generous budget and epic battle scenes, OUTLAW KING probably would've benefited from a wide theatrical release instead of being relegated to the Netflix Original platform. While the script-- credited to five writers--is largely a spinoff of BRAVEHEART and doesn't really offer anything you haven't seen before (drink every time one of Robert's blood-soaked men yells), the film is technically ambitious and extremely well-made, with Mackenzie indulging in numerous long and complicated tracking shots (the opening sequence is almost nine uninterrupted minutes that establish numerous characters and conflicts in a rapid-fire fashion) and using natural lighting in some stunning and often breathtaking Scottish locations (he also cut it down from 137 minutes to 121 after a negative reception at the Toronto Film Fest). Anyone who's a fan of this sort of thing knows to expect a mud-caked bloodbath and on that end, especially with its climactic Battle of Loudoun Hill and its geysers of arterial spray, OUTLAW KING doesn't disappoint. Pine might initially seem miscast, but you get used to his mullet and he settles into the role nicely, especially in his scenes with LADY MACBETH star Pugh. She's terrific here as the supportive and fiercely outspoken Elizabeth and is quickly establishing herself as one of today's top young actresses from whom we'll be hearing a lot. Taylor-Johnson has a few standout moments as the almost-feral Douglas, while Dillane does a solid job of following in the footsteps of Patrick McGoohan, and gets off a couple of good jabs at his pathetic weasel of a son ("Well, you did manage to imprison a few women," he scoffs after the Prince's latest failed attempt to defeat Robert). Howle manages to create a villain you love to hate with his Prince of Wales, but it's a mostly cardboard display of bratty petulance that looks like he studied a highlight reel of Tim Roth in ROB ROY, Joffrey on GAME OF THRONES, and a few Donald Trump press conferences. There's apparently another Robert the Bruce film in the works for 2019, one that stars Angus MacFadyen in his most famous role, though it's hard telling if that's an actual film or just an IMDb page created by an "amacfadyenrulz69@hotmail.com." Rather formulaic in terms of its storytelling but entertaining and beautifully-made, OUTLAW KING is definitely above-average by the standards of Netflix Original films.



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