Well, if you can’t beat Braveheart, you can beat horses. I mean, literally ruthlessly kill horses. Hundreds of them at a go. My god it was rough watching.
Outlaw King follows a different character in the Braveheart cinematic universe – Robert the Bruce. He starts the movie out as a defeated nobleman, having just surrendered his land and castle (but never his heart) to England’s King Edward. Oh he is pitiable in his lovely green frock, belted low on the hips – a dress that accentuates his piercing blue eyes and his hand-crafted mullet. King Edward gives him a wife (Florence Pugh) as a reward, and they are married in a ceremony celebrating the love of naps and political alliance, but not necessary each other. But since you can only mollify a man with one wife at a time, soon enough he’s riding around the beautiful Scottish countryside, trying to unite the people (impossible) and rally an army (near impossible) to mount the campaign against their English oppressors anew.
As you can imagine, King Edward and his sadistic, bowl-cut sporting son the Prince of Wales are quite enraged, so they’re only going to come at Robert (Chris Pine) harder – including declaring him an outlaw, and seizing his wife and daughter (which is poor gift-giving etiquette on their part). So Robert just gallops around raising hell and hopefully spirits until the two sides meet in an epic, EPIC, horse-murdering battle.
Outlaw King reunites Pine with his Hell Or High Water director, David Mackenzie. Unfortunately, lightning hasn’t struck twice. Theme and tone and conviction are all noticeably weaker, as if neither Mackenzie nor Pine is entirely convinced this Robert the Bruce fellow is really worthy of the mantle this film bestows upon him. They raise the stakes by painting him a devoted family man and thoughtful lover, a conceit I’d expect to see in a bodice-ripping romance, not a historical war movie. But it still doesn’t quite add up to a towering hero, perhaps in part due to lazy editing. The movie, at 137 minutes, is too long by quite a margin. There’s a lot of repetition that could easily be cut down without losing a damn thing.
But don’t worry, it’s not totally without merit. The men, including Aaron Taylor-Johnson (does anyone play deranged as well as him?) and Tony Curran love to roll around in the mud. The boys spend 97% of the movie caked in dirt and bathed in blood – it’s a real sausagefest that should sprout at least 10 new chest hairs for all who watch. And you’ll learn some handy Scottish customs such as: it’s not just kilts they don’t wear under with; and the old smacking people to wish them luck (“Let this blow be the last you receive unanswered”) – a real swindle if I’ve ever seen one; and weird swan oaths that are perhaps better left to history, or at least what passes for history on Netflix.
Outlaw King is often intense and often gory and often brutal. But just when it’s getting to be too much, Mackenzie cuts to a long, sweeping panorama of the countryside, giving me space to breathe. But then he zooms in tight on Pine so we see that Bruce is demented with grief – it’s right there in his eyes. Sure they might be sheep shaggers and horse killers, but they’re also just super chivalrous men who politely wait for each side to make their impassioned, inspirational pep talks before commencing slicing and dicing. It’s real beautiful stuff. I would hesitate to recommend it if it was being released in theatres, but since you’ve got Netflix anyway, why not wait for a day when you’re really mad at a horse, and live vicariously.