Since Netflix began creating original content in 2013, they’ve been able to produce multiple beloved television shows such as “Orange is the New Black,” “Stranger Things” and most recently, “The Haunting of Hill House.” When it comes to Netflix’s original movies though, the bar is usually not as high in terms of quality.
“Outlaw King” is a Netflix original film that tells the story of Robert the Bruce who crowned himself King of Scotland and lead an army to fight against the English occupation of 14th century Scotland. It stars Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce, Aaron Taylor-Johnson as James Douglas, Florence Pugh as Elizabeth de Burgh, Billy Howle as Edward, Prince of Whales, Tony Curran as Angus Macdonald, and Stephen Dillane as Edward I of England. It is directed by David Mackenzie of “Hell or High Water” fame who was able to create some amazing visuals and cinematic techniques for the film.
The opening scene of the movie is a very impressive eight minute long take that goes through multiple locations, lighting setups and focal points while also setting up the backstories of the protagonist. The battle sequences in the film are all very well choreographed and directed, especially the main battle of the third act. The landscape shots of Scotland are breathtaking and really show the beauty of the Scottish countryside.
When it comes to the movie’s script though, we start to run into problems. “Outlaw King” had five separate writers working on it, which can explain a lot of its problems. The pace and tone of the film are completely unbalanced with the first half being utterly bland and the second seeing some humor and lightness. And when I say humor, I mean one of the English knights had a cartoon-like scream when he died. Beyond the film’s tone, pacing itself is uneven with multiple scenes that are barely even a minute long, resulting in major plot points feeling rushed. It almost feels like this was supposed to be a five part TV mini-series that was cut down to two hours to make it feature length.
The performances in the film were mixed to say the least. Chris Pine was great as Robert the Bruce and I felt that he was able to give a believable Scottish accent (well, believable to an American who has never been to Scotland), a task that many American actors have trouble with. Tony Curran and Aaron Taylor-Johnson both give good performances, but neither of their characters were all that memorable. Florence Pugh does fine on her own as Elizabeth, but the problem is that she and Pine don’t have any chemistry together, resulting in the romance feeling awkward at certain points of the film. Then there was Billy Howle as Prince Edward, who is so slimy and cartoonishly evil that it becomes annoying with him angrily shouting 75 percent of his lines and trying really hard to be Joaquin Phoenix in “Gladiator” but failing almost every time. I’m honestly not sure if the audience was meant to feel bad for him or to laugh at him.
So was it a horrible? Not really, I’m not even sure if I would call it bad, it was just fine. Was it anything special? No, but it was able to keep me entertained for two hours. Is it a historically accurate representation of Robert the Bruce’s life, probably not.
I would tell you to skip the movie in theaters and wait till it’s on streaming if you’re interested but considering that it’s going straight to Netflix anyway, feel free to check it out right now on Netflix if you have a few hours to kill some time.