“Outlaw King” offers a compelling account of a pivotal moment in Scottish history

Courtesy of Netflix

Chris Pine reunites with “Hell or High Water” director David Mackenzie for “Outlaw King,” a historical epic that follows the rise of Scottish King Robert the Bruce, as he attempts to unify medieval Scotland against oppressive English rule. Beginning immediately after the defeat and capture of William Wallace (best known as the protagonist of 1995’s “Braveheart”), “Outlaw King” follows Robert’s transition from reluctant Scottish noble to rebel king bent on freeing Scotland from its English overlords.

In many ways this film can be seen as a sequel to “Braveheart,” considering that the ending of that film and the beginning of “Outlaw King” occur concurrently.  And while such connections may offer insight to the historical period, they will only confuse audiences. This is due to the fact that the two movies differ with their portrayals of historical figures and events, which leads to some jarring inconsistency. To compare “Outlaw King” to “Braveheart” is unfair, for it would be a difficult task for any movie to live up with and compete with the success of the 1995 classic.  “Outlaw King” shines brightest when it stands alone, and acts more as a theatrical adaptation of actual historical events rather than a loose adaptation of events made with substantial creative freedom like “Braveheart.”

The film features some commendable performances, but ultimately many felt lacking in complexity and often came across as oversimplified. Chris Pine’s performance as the titular protagonist is to be commended, although his character’s motivation feels a bit weak and underdeveloped.  When we first meet Robert, he is being forced to swear loyalty to King Edward I in order to avoid open war with England, against whom the Scots have lost in the past. 20 minutes into the film, however, an event occurs that motivates Robert to disregard everything he worked for earlier in order to fight the British.  Though this change of heart propels the plot forward, it comes out of nowhere and his sudden willingness to go to war is not fully explained. This change for Robert is necessary for him to reach his destiny at the end; however, the film spends more time showing us what he does rather than justifying and explaining his actions.

Pine’s performance as Robert shines as he conveys the emotional torment after hearing of the atrocities the English commit in search of him. Additionally, Pine’s relatively authentic Scottish accent is to be applauded, even among a cast of Scottish actors. The main downside in Pine’s performance is that the aforementioned emotional scenes are scarce occurrences that make up an insignificant portion of the film. However, the gravity of these scenes, make one root for Robert the Bruce as he faces the might of the English.

The overall execution of the plot is done well, as we see Robert trying to unite Scotland.  The opening does a decent job of setting the stage and showing the aftermath of William Wallace’s exploits at a well kept pace. However, following Wallace’s death, the movie quickly and suddenly picks up the pace.  Without much warning Scotland seems to turn into a war zone as riots ensue and cities are burned. The pace is initially a bit jarring but does not take away from the overall quality of the film. Each scene carries it own weight and the battles are executed brilliantly.  Without a doubt, the final battle is where “Outlaw King” shines the brightest. The execution of the conflict is well choreographed as we witness the outnumbered Scots take on the impressive British forces using the Scottish countryside to their advantage.

Verdict: “Outlaw King” doesn’t outshine its classic predecessor; however, it manages to faithfully depict a pivotal moment in Scottish history and provide some truly remarkable battles in its two hour runtime.  Although characters can feel inconsistent at times, the film keeps viewers interested and presents a worthwhile story of a nation’s struggle for freedom.

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