Arts, Features

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘Outlaw King’ entertains as period piece, lacks character connection

Chris Pine stars in Netflix’s new period film, “Outlaw King.” COURTESY OF DAVID EUSTANCE/ NETFLIX

Epic medieval dramas are certainly not something seen often in movies these days. Although they are dominating television with works such as “Game of Thrones” and “Vikings,” few movie directors seem willing to dip their toes in this genre.

David Mackenzie, director of critically acclaimed “Hell or High Water,” has taken this step with “Outlaw King,” using Netflix as the film’s means of distribution.

Netflix is continuing to draw in highly talented directors as they expand their catalogue through a variety of original movies and shows.

While this film is by no means amazing, the spectacle and thrills make the movie worthwhile to see. It also has the potential to be the start of a big screen medieval epic revival in Hollywood.

The plot of the film, loosely based on true events, features Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) as a fearless Scottish warrior who is greatly affected by the death of William Wallace, a key figure in the rebellion of his homeland against occupying England.

Robert quickly takes up the mantle of this hero, and the rest of the film chronicles his struggle for freedom against seemingly impossible odds.

One blatant problem with the film is that Robert is simply not that interesting of a protagonist. Pine does a fine job playing him, but it is hard to do too much with a very generic and by-the-numbers protagonist.

The audience is never given a very good understanding of Robert’s personality beyond surface deep motivations. We know he loves his country and has a woman he cares about, but not much else.

The majority of the supporting cast is largely forgettable, as well. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Billy Howle have a lot of fun as the snarky lieutenant and sniveling villain, respectively, but aside from them, it is difficult to point out anyone who really left a major impression.

This is surprising considering that Mackenzie’s “Hell or High Water” was almost completely character-driven, keeping audiences invested in a fairly predictable story through the depth of its cast.

The movie’s story, similar to the cast, is largely unremarkable. Anyone with a basic knowledge of movie tropes will be able to figure out exactly where “Outlaw King” is going. It is essentially a rehash of “Braveheart” with less tragedy.

This is not a major criticism, as it is hard to picture how they could have written the movie in a way that was more unpredictable while still remaining historically accurate. Thankfully, the movie more than makes up for these shortcomings with its action and camerawork, which is absolutely breathtaking at points.

The opening scene of the film is a nearly 10-minute-long tracking shot featuring hundreds of extras and long periods of dialogue and action. This technical feat sets the tone for a film that will continue to impress in this regard throughout.

A gritty historical drama should be expected to deliver on some brutal action, and “Outlaw King” exceeds these expectations. The level of violence presented means this is a film that is not for everyone, but those who enjoy the intensity of “Game of Thrones” will not be disappointed.

This level of dazzling cinematography continues into the climax, which features a large-scale battle. This battle is one that will likely be remembered in the same vein as the ones featured in “Saving Private Ryan” or “The Lord of the Rings.” It is chaotic, sickening and epic, all at the same time.

The only complaint that could be leveled at this battle is that the lack of interesting characters makes it difficult to get invested in a victor. That being said, if one looks at it as a purely visual treat, they will undoubtedly be entertained.

The battle is a perfect way to end the movie on a high note. Up to that point, it had been a fairly average experience elevated whenever an action scene unfolded.

The writing in “Outlaw King” leaves much to be desired, but through visual thrills alone it is proof that Netflix can handle big-budget blockbuster films. If it performs well, it will be interesting to see how many more of these ambitious projects are undertaken by the streaming service in the future and if any of them will be centered in the medieval era once again.

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