Once upon a time, historical epics dominated the cinema screens, but as time progressed audience preference moved towards summer blockbusters and superheroes. Sadly, we are long past the days of films such as Braveheart, Last of the Mohicans, and The Last Samurai. Fortunately, there are still directors who wish to kindle the dying flames of historical epics. One such director is David Mackenzie, best known for his recent breakout hit Hell or High Water. Mackenzie always dreamed of directing his own religious medieval epic, and when Netflix gave him the opportunity, the rest is, well, history.
Outlaw King premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to mixed reviews at best. Mackenzie took the criticisms to heart and decided to cut twenty minutes out of the film. What I watched is the edited version, now available on Netflix. One thing I clearly remember from TIFF is how everyone couldn’t stop talking about Chris Pine’s frontal nudity. To answer the question of whether his penis was part of the cut, I am here to inform you that all of Pine made it in this new version.
For those familiar with the historical epic Braveheart, you will be glad to know Outlaw King picks up right after the death of Scottish leader William Wallace. The film opens with Robert the Bruce (Pine) and other Scottish nobility surrendering to the English King Edward I. By Edward’s decree, Robert is wedded to Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh), and assigned to collect taxes. What inspires Robert the Bruce to take up the good fight and lead Scotland is when body parts of William Wallace are sent all over Scotland as a warning to other potential rebellions. In a series of dreadful events, Robert the Bruce is pronounced King of Scotland, and shortly afterward an outlaw by the King of England.
By making a more grounded historical epic that focuses on staying true to the source material and avoiding romanticism, Mackenzie may have missed what made those other epics so memorable. Outlaw King sets out to tell a grand story but feels more like a cold-hearted reenactment. Pine and his co-stars give strong performances, but their characters lack complexity and warmness. We are left distant to Robert the Bruce’s inner thoughts and actual ambitions. The best parts of the film are actually how brutally and honestly it portrays the historical battles of the war and the gorgeous landscape of Scotland.
For those looking for a great historical epic, Outlaw King will fall short, but the payoff of the ending battle is enough to warrant a watch.
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