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David Mackenzie tackles his Scotland’s early 14th-century history in Outlaw King, a massive-scale account of nobleman-turned-King of Scots Robert the Bruce’s quest to restore sovereignty and freedom to his subjects. He and his countrymen’s efforts to beat back the English goliath tread the same battle lines as everything from Braveheart to 300, but that’s hardly a problem for a director who excels at massaging detail into stock narratives. Yet his fixation on the proving grounds of manhood has curdled into something bland and simple here, and occasionally veers into the unintentionally silly. When Mackenzie unveils the full-frontal form of his lead actor while bathing in a stream, it feels a bit like he’s trying to prove something.
That lead actor is Chris Pine, who infuses the Bruce with old-fashioned masculine ideals of honour and principle. He treats the ladies right, abstaining from sex on the night of his marriage to hardy Elizabeth (Florence Pugh, excellent despite her thankless role), waiting until she feels she’s ready. The film begins as he pledges his fealty to his new overlords for the sake of the people, yielding his dignity in the hope that it might put an end to the conflict. When it becomes clear that surrender will not stop the English invaders from harassing the townspeople, Robert makes the tough choice to launch an against-all-odds rebellion. Their nemesis, Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle) is everything a drill sergeant tries to grind out of a new recruit: petulant, underhanded, disrespectful and weak.
Mackenzie is at his best when immersing himself in the well-researched nitty-gritty of the Middle Ages, staging a wedding, a funeral and a knighting ceremony with what appears to be absolute fidelity. Steadicam shots move freely from indoors to out, mapping humongous and exhaustively created sets. During the scenes of strategising, in which Robert must navigate the vendettas and egos of his fellow Scotsmen as he rallies them to his cause, the process-obsessed director is at his best. But despite all the pained faces, this script gives Robert the Bruce no more depth than a paragraph in a history textbook. Mackenzie has previously searched for nobility in crooks and bank robbers. Here, when his main character asserts himself as a conventional hero at every available opportunity, the joy of the hunt is lost altogether. Charles Bramesco
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Outlaw King review – Chris Pine fronts up for some macho medieval bombast | Toronto film festival 2018