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Chris Pine’s ‘Outlaw King’ is a disappointing medieval drama: Review – ANITH
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Chris Pine’s ‘Outlaw King’ is a disappointing medieval drama: Review

Chris Pine’s ‘Outlaw King’ is a disappointing medieval drama: Review

There are a few reasons to recommend Outlaw King, David Mackenzie’s medieval movie starring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce.

For one, it’s pretty. Like, really pretty. Mackenzie never misses an opportunity to showcase the pristine beauty of the Scottish countryside, with its rolling hills and soft mists. There’s one particular shot of a rainbow that nearly made me gasp. 

It’s also got plenty of fighting, if you’re into that sort of thing. The film rarely goes longer than 20 minutes without a battle scene, some more doomed or more epic or more violent than others, but all convincingly choreographed to look difficult and exhausting and flat-out brutal. Do you wish Game of Thrones had way less talking and way more action? Outlaw King might be for you.

And  — it must be acknowledged, because it was the talk of TIFF — it does feature a brief scene of full-frontal nudity from Chris Pine. Not for any real reason. The NSFW reveal doesn’t advance the plot or themes in any way. It’s just there, casually swinging in the breeze while he bathes in the river and chats with his friends, because realism, I guess?

But dig beyond those surface-level pleasures, and there’s not enough there there. Outlaw King is one of those historical dramas that takes the Wikipedia approach to storytelling: This happens, and then that happens, and then that guy dies, and then that battle takes place, and then this other thing happens. There are a few captions at the end to explain how everything turns out, and then it’s time for the credits.

Outlaw King is more interested in Robert the historical figure than Robert the person.

Outlaw King does occasionally show glimmers of the more interesting movie it might have been. Mackenzie has an eye for the little human details that make a world real, like the awkward glance exchanged between two strangers at their own wedding ceremony, the barely restrained eyeroll of a father regarding his disappointing son. And his talented cast does their level best to breathe life into their characters. But time and again, the film lets them down.

Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) brings such strength and warmth to the role of Elizabeth, Robert’s wife, that she seems like an early contender for the most intriguing character of the movie — before the plot sidelines her, giving her little to do for the last two-thirds of the movie. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Lord Douglas shows flashes of wildness, but only in brief glimpses — otherwise, he’s stuck playing just another one of Robert’s men. 

Even Pine, in the lead role, deserves better. Outlaw King seems more interested in Robert the historical figure than Robert the person, and keeps the latter at arm’s length. So although we spend plenty of time watching Pine gaze grimly into the distance, charge bravely into battle, or suffer nobly at the hands of English soldiers, it’s hard to say we really know him by the end of the film. 

Who these people are beyond their names and titles, why we should be invested in their journey, and what larger cultural and political forces are driving them, is only perfunctorily explored. Perhaps viewers more familiar with Scottish history won’t mind as much; if you’re already fully invested in Robert the Bruce and his quest to unify Scotland, Outlaw King probably sells itself. But for everyone else, Outlaw King doesn’t offer much to hang onto.

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Anith Gopal
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