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Reel Review: ‘Outlaw King’

Bay Stephens

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By Anna Husted EBS Film Critic

The biggest flaw of Netflix’s newest action flick, “Outlaw King,” is its historic inaccuracies of Scotland.

Filmmaking, like any art form, allows for creative wiggle room if it’s used to establish a greater theme or direction, but “Outlaw King” fails to do so. Creative licensing should be used to make a statement, make great art, or present us with an overarching issue such as in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” of this year.

“Outlaw King” had so much opportunity to be as relevant as ever from the Scottish-born director David Mackenzie. In 2014, Scotland voted on independence from England and it was narrowly defeated 55.3 percent against, to 44.7 percent in favor. “Outlaw King” had this opportunity to show real-world relevance, but instead focused on closed-room meetings and romance. Although the film has plenty of fight scenes, it still fell short in packing a punch as a great historical film.

What I was hoping would be as powerful and exciting as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace in 1999’s “Braveheart” was an underused Chris Pine as King Robert the Bruce. Pine’s performance is so subdued that even in the battle scenes he is less a man of action and more a man of romance.

Although Robert the Bruce was known as the humble and wise rebel king, it is also unknown if he was the one to betray Wallace in order to seek glory for himself, a storyline that would have brought balance to the two sides for and against independence. The film does not go into these historic discrepancies, but rather portrays Robert the Bruce as Scotland’s unsung hero.

While accuracy may be its greatest flaw, cinematography and battle choreography are its greatest achievements. The camera shows the audience points of view unique to an action film, taking us into the muddy trenches alongside the few men standing by the Scottish king. The handheld camera following the king, and his new bride, ducks behind townspeople selling meat and goods, which gives the film a corporeal feeling—these were flesh and blood people.

Netflix was once reliable for making the best original movies, a torch now passed to Amazon Prime, but “Outlaw King” is still worth a watch. If nothing more than to get you thinking about Scottish history and possibly doing your own research on the small island’s complicated politics.

“Outlaw King” also has a strong supporting cast with up-and-coming actress Florence Pugh, best known for her turn as murderous lady of the house in 2016’s “Lady Macbeth,” and James Cosmo, who also starred in “Braveheart.” My favorite character, Douglas, is played by indie-film star Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who delivers a passionate love-for-land-and-country performance.

Despite its weaknesses, “Outlaw King” is worth a watch because Mackenzie is a director to keep an eye on. One day we will be measuring his canon of films as a whole and might not even remember what it was we didn’t like about “Outlaw King.”

“Outlaw King” is available to stream on Netflix.

Anna Husted has a master’s in film studies from New York University. In Big Sky she can be found at the movies at Lone Peak Cinema or hiking up a mountain. When not gazing at the silver screen or watching her new favorite TV show, she’s running, fishing or roughhousing with her cat, Indiana Jones.

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