Chris Pine swaps his phaser for a sword in the bloody medieval epic, Outlaw King. Pine stars as Robert the Bruce, the King of Scotland, who fought for independence against a tyrannical England. The film is well shot by Director David Mackenzie (Young Adam, Hell or High Water), but fails to deliver any real emotional gravitas. The characters toil through the savagery of war without introspection. The battles escalate in grandeur while the drama fizzles. Outlaw King is a shallow history lesson.
Outlaw King opens in 1304 Scotland. English King Edward I (Stephen Dillane) has crushed a rebellion led by William Wallace. The Scottish Lords were forced to swear fealty to the cruel king, who continued to tax them heavily as reparations for the war. To further cement bonds amongst the conquered, King Edward forces the marriage of his goddaughter, Elizabeth De Burgh (Florence Pugh), to the son of the leading Scottish noble, Robert the Bruce.
Robert treats Elizabeth with deference and respect. She comes to admire him; developing a deep bond with his daughter, Marjorie (Josie O'Brien). The peace with the English is short lived. King Edward butchers William Wallace, spreading his body parts across Scotland. Robert realizes the people will never accept English rule without being slaughtered. He renounces his oath to Edward, then takes up arms against him.
It's impossible to watch Outlaw King without comparison to the Oscar winning Braveheart, Mel Gibson's biography of William Wallace. That film was soul stirring. The characters had tremendous depth. You believed in their cause because it was so gripping. Outlaw King doesn't remotely inspire that same feeling. Chris Pine, a versatile actor, is oddly stoic here. The character plods through the film with dismal energy. This is a strange turn for David MacKenzie, who also directed Pine in the riveting Hell or High Water. Outlaw King's plot should be dripping with as much heart as blood.
The relationship between Robert and Elizabeth needed to be further explored. These characters should have been the emotional engine that revved up the plot. Chris Pine and Florence Pugh have chemistry, but lack screen time. The huge battle scenes were the obvious focus. Mackenzie needed to shave time from the carnage and allocate more to the romance. I hate to bring up Braveheart again; but the romance between William Wallace, his murdered wife, and the French Queen, added such dramatic heft to that film. Outlaw King doesn't give its capable leads that opportunity.
Outlaw King's battle scenes reflect the $130 million dollar budget. They range from throat-cutting ambushes to massive conflicts with thousands of troops. The fight choreography is a barbaric depiction of the era. Entrails falling out of torn stomachs, limbs hacked off, horses speared, the combat is gory and realistic. The costume design, hair, and makeup are applaudable. The glimpses of nudity are surprisingly spread evenly among the sexes. The topless maidens balanced by a gloriously full frontal Chris Pine.
Netflix will release Outlaw King simultaneously in theaters and streaming on November 9th. The film is lacking in exposition and characterization, but warrants viewing on the big screen. The huge battle scenes are worth the price of the admission, or the naked Chris Pine; whatever your cup of tea. Outlaw King ekes out a recommendation, especially since it's so easy to stream on Netflix.