Review: Outlaw King

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

OUTLAW KING was reviewed at TIFF 2018 – since then the film has undergone edits and is now twenty minutes shorter. This review reflects the original TIFF cut. 

PLOT: Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) attempts to liberate Scotland from the tyrannical rule of the English by waging war against the king (Stephen Dillane) and his brutal son (Billy Howle).

REVIEW: It’s fitting that OUTLAW KING (the actual on-screen title is OUTLAW/KING) is the movie that Netflix is using to debut their all-new cinematic logo, a nice change of pace from the familiar da-dum that makes you feel like you’re watching it an Apple TV, as it’s arguably their most ambitious film to date. A big-budget historical epic from director David Mackenzie, this is exactly the type of film the service needs to mount to distinguish themselves, in that its part of a genre that almost never gets made by the studios anymore — the historical epic.

In fact, Mackenzie’s made such a gorgeous, sprawling epic that it’s near-criminal that very few people will actually get to see it unspool in theatres, which is the place it really belongs. Still, the fact that it exists at all and has been made on such an elaborate scale is cause for celebration.

Chris Pine has one of his best starring roles to date as Robert the Bruce, a role previously played by Angus Macfadyen in BRAVEHEART. In many ways, OUTLAW KING serves as a defacto sequel, taking place in the aftermath of William Wallace’s rebellion, although the character does infact show up at one point, as a wild-eyed shaggy rebel, a far different take from Mel Gibson’s sexy swashbuckler (NOTE- apparently this sequence is among the ones cut in the re-edit). It’s a strong companion piece to what’s still considered one of the best films of this particular genre, while serving as a strong effort in its own right.

To my (admittedly) non-Scottish ears, Pine affects a good Scottish accent and makes for a compelling, charismatic hero. While the film is grounded by a stronger than expected love story between him and his betrothed (a strong turn by Florence Pugh), from about an hour in it’s an unrelenting war film and Pine clearly attacks it with relish (he also contributes a full-frontal nude scene with shades of Mackenzie’s cult-favourite YOUNG ADAM).

He’s supported by a terrific supporting cast, with Stephen Dillane making for a somewhat more sympathetic Edward I than the great Patrick McGoohan, while Billy Howle as the evil Prince of Wales makes for a brutal antagonist. Of them all, Aaron Taylor-Johnson comes close to stealing the show as Robert’s most loyal soldier, having a lot of the best action scenes. Any notion of Taylor-Johnson as bland (following GODZILLA) will be a distant memory once people get a load of him here, being clearly in his element.

While the fact that it’s a day and date Netflix release means Barry Ackroyd’s naturalistic cinematography won’t get a big screen showcase, the freedom Mackenzie’s been granted is hard to argue with. There’s no way this would have made it past the MPAA, with OUTLAW KING boasting the goriest battle scenes I’ve ever seen. People get disembowelled in real time, you see what being “drawn and quartered” really looks like, while people hack away at each other with medieval weaponry. At times, this feels like the SAVING PRIVATE RYAN of historical epics.

One really has to give TIFF credit for embracing Netflix so much, as they’re giving their expertly mounted new wave of films the opportunity to be appreciated in a theatrical setting they otherwise wouldn’t have enjoyed. It’s too bad more people won’t get to see OUTLAW KING that way, as it cries out for a theatrical release, but one can’t deny it’s a crossover movie for the service, in that they’ve finally made something that’s every bit as epic as anything put out by the big studios. Heck, its better than most tentpole movies I’ve seen this year and I bet that underserved audiences looking for legit spectacle designed for a grown-up audience will eat this up. It’s superb.




Viewer Ratings (0 reviews)

Add your rating


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.