Outlaw King, aka the movie with the Pine nuts, is a spiritual sequel to Braveheart, overlapping with the end of that movie to tell the story of Robert the Bruce, the man who finished the job and defeated the English, creating a sovereign kingdom of Scotland. Chris Pine reunites with Hell or High Water director David Mackenzie and stars as Robert the Bruce, a war-weary, borderline embittered man, who has to swallow his pride and bend the knee to the English king in order to settle for peace after Wallace’s rebellion. Outlaw opens with a spectacular twenty-minute tracking shot which introduces Robert and other key historical figures, including the bratty, insecure Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle). If the whole movie was like this scene, maybe it would be more interesting, but it’s not, so everyone is talking about Pine’s full-frontal nude scene for lack of anything better to discuss. There isn’t much else to talk about with Outlaw King, except all the horses that die at the end.
But it’s not a bad movie. Outlaw has five credited writers (including Mackenzie), and it feels like a movie with five credited writers. Even with a post-TIFF trim of twenty minutes, bringing it down to a more reasonable two hours, it still lacks the kind of focused momentum that makes for a thrilling story. And this should be a thrilling story! Robert was vastly outnumbered, fighting both rival clans in Scotland and the English, and still he comes up with one of the more tactically brilliant battles of the medieval period (the Battle of Loudoun Hill, one of the touchstones for the Battle of the Bastards). Medieval history is straight up BONKERS but there is a distinct lack of bonk in Outlaw King, even though it’s about one of the most improbable victories in history. It’s the equivalent of a history professor glossing over that time a pope dug up a dead pope and put the corpse on trial.
Of course, Outlaw King has to overcome the fact that Braveheart has already stolen Robert the Bruce’s thunder. Outlaw is technically very accomplished, but it never quite gets over the Braveheart hurdle. Pine does everything he can, but it’s just such a big shadow to stand in. Braveheart is wildly historically inaccurate—Outlaw definitely has the advantage in the accuracy department—but it is a hella good movie that holds up (except for Mel Gibson). At a critical moment, Robert delivers an inspiring speech but as good as Pine is, you can’t help but think, “They’ll never take our freedooommm!!!
There are some things that work well, though. Pine is very good as a beleaguered leader. He gets naked for a second, so there’s that. Florence Pugh stars as Robert’s wife, Elizabeth, and she’s so wonderful, you can feel Mackenzie and the filmmakers trying to give her as much as possible to do (but there is just no getting around the fact that Elizabeth Bruce spent most of this time imprisoned in a castle). And Aaron Taylor-Johnson comes in hot as “Black” Jamie Douglas, playing him as a half-crazed, revenge obsessed loon. ATJ makes big decisions and REALLY commits to them, which gives Outlaw some much needed verve. And there is an unintentionally hilarious scene where Robert rows his little boat so furiously, I can’t wait for the GIFs.
Outlaw King is not a necessary watch. If there was anything to really recommend it, every story about it wouldn’t be about the Pine nuts. But there is just not much to talk about with this movie, so every conversation revolves around Pine’s nude scene. I guess we could talk about the horses, but that is depressing as f-ck. (Seriously, if seeing animals, even obvious animatronic ones, die on screen bothers you, this is not your movie.) Outlaw King is a good-looking movie, and very well made, but it can’t get out of Braveheart’s shadow.