What do you get when you throw together a talented director on the rise (David McKenzie), screenwriters of prestigious TV and big screen properties, David Fincher’s production designer and Paul Greengrass’ cinematographer? Not to mention stars Chris Pine, Frances Pugh, and a smorgasbord of notable character actors? You have in Outlaw King a movie that is almost the sum of its parts.
This Netflix original is mostly definable by what it is not. It’s a true historical movie set in the 14th century, but it’s not an epic. It follows on from the events depicted in Braveheart, about the rebellion of Scottish king Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine), but this is no bloated slab of Oscar bait. Pine, like everyone else, downplays the drama. There is no blue paint. No big, memorable speech about freedom (although go watch that speech again – it’s not as good as you remember it). There is no martyr scene with visions of passed love ones beckoning in the afterlife. People aren’t going to buy the soundtrack and cry over it with their friends.
It’s all a bit strange. Almost in defiance of the tyranny of end-of-year awards season, Outlaw King is concise and understated to its own detriment. We can applaud its self-confidence, but surely a movie like this can be longer than two hours. Instead it’s chosen a frank depiction of historical events over character development. There are plenty of skirmishes and sackings of castles, but there’s not enough time given to building suspense in the moments before the English do terrible things to the Scots. And its presence on the small-screen platform of Netflix, plus the familiar faces from the likes of Game of Thrones, constantly invite the comparison to the many quality historical shows on TV that do take their time to earn the big payoffs.
However, with such talented people doing what they do so competently, Outlaw King is worth watching for its performances, beautiful design, cinematography, and staging. And if you’re a sucker for historical stuff, this deserves your time (after all, it’ll only take you the equivalent of two episodes of Vikings).
Outlaw King is streaming on Netflix now.