Tense, action-packed and surprisingly funny, David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King impresses at the 62nd BFI London Film Festival. In an attempt to gain more professional recognition, Netflix again takes its hand at the big blockbuster. Effectively continuing on from where Braveheart (dir. Mel Gibson, 1995) left off, Chris Pine stars as the Scottish rebel king Robert the Bruce. Though a little lukewarm and clumpy at times, Outlaw King is carried through well by its characters. And subsequently the actor’s strong portrayals of them.
Backing up Pine is Florence Pugh and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, each giving impeccable performances. Pine masters the Scottish accent to an unbelievable extent. You genuinely forget he’s American! But it’s not just the accent that’s good. The control and rigor Pine leads with holds up the entire story. We meet him through cinematographer Barry Ackroyd’s tracking intro shot, followed by some good editing by Jack Roberts. And it’s Bruce’s noble character that shines at the core of the film.
David Mackenzie gets stuck in with the mud and gore of medieval warfare. We become truly enveloped 14th century Scotland with a dual of sweeping panoramic landscapes against close-ups of boots trolling through the sludge. Though not too frequent as to become desensitizing, the blood budget would have been no doubt sizeable. Guts and violence mercilessly occupy the screen (when necessary) in a brutal but realistic depiction of ye-olde battle. These fighting scenes are also notably well done. Combat can be a tricky area to make visually interesting, as the duelling figures blur the screen to the sound of clinking swords. However, Mackenzie adequately structures the action to make distinguishable characters with gripping beats. The stillness of many other scenes, such as those within the Church, also balance out the onslaught of violence nicely.
Humour, against my expectation, is sprinkled over the film to boost an otherwise depressing watch. Never overdone, these one-liners feel natural and elevate the story without jeopardizing the drama. Nevertheless, I did feel detail was lacking- not in visuals, but in the script itself. Some tepid responses to Outlaw King’s screening was probably due to a few clumsy scenes. The conclusion rushing through to tie loose ends, some key events are skimmed over despite there being more than enough run time to kill. Only filling an approx. one and half hour space, a warfare epic had potential if Mackenzie braved the extra hour mark. Elizabeth de Burgh (Bruce’s wife) had her subplot cut short, whilst key scenes and relationships were underdeveloped.
That said, I still believe Mackenzie took an admirable stab at bringing Netflix to the festival table. Overall, I enjoyed the gritty biopic that was well-acted, visually engulfing and tonally secure.