Outlaw King (2018) – Review

Outlaw King is now streaming on Netflix.

[Ed. Note: Being that TV and City is on a bit of a hiatus, this article has not been edited.]

By I. Simon

While most Netflix Original Films are far less than stellar, I must say that they’ve been on a pretty good streak since October. Films such as Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark, Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life and Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes For Us have all been great to say the least, and the highly anticipated Roma from Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuarón, which has been receiving unanimous acclaim from critics since premiering at Venice Film Festival (where it won the Golden Lion), is dropping on Netflix next month. Given that I really liked David Mackenzie’s previous film, Hell or High Water, I was somewhat interested in Outlaw King. However, the fact that it had five writers (yes, you read that correctly) credited, none of which were the Hell or High Water screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, whose screenplay is the main reason why that film worked, had me a bit skeptical going in, as Outlaw King having five credited writers might indicate that the film is potentially going to be a mess, and unfortunately, my skepticisms came trust.

Just from watching what’s happening on screen, you can easily tell that Outlaw King was written by five writers, one of them being director David Mackenzie himself. Not only is the narrative both incredibly generic and repetitive (poorly written melodrama happens, action sequence, repeat), but the characters are very much lacking in depth, – hence why we have no reason to be invested in what’s happening – the dialogue is incredibly clunky, and, at times, the film doesn’t even know what it wants to go for tonally. The film wants to be very dark in terms of tone, but at the same time, there are a handful of comedic bits scattered throughout. Sure, some of the comedic bits admittedly land, but most of them come across as cringeworthy, and none of them really fit for the dark tone and overall feel that the film wants to go for, and even goes as far as to causing the film to be void of any thrills.

David Mackenzie’s direction here is overall a mixed bag, and it’s not surprising as this is his biggest budgeted project to date. While the camerawork, costumes, sets and makeup are all very good, and the battle sequences are decently shot (though not particularly memorable, especially when compared to those of a film such as Return of the King), the way Mackenzie handles drama – and, by extension, directs his actors – is very poor. Most of the drama is melodramatic and lacking in weight, partly because the tone is very inconsistent and also because the acting is overall not very good, with some actors delivering their lines in a way so over the top that it comes off as unintentionally hilarious. The editing is also a mess, mainly because there are so many hard cuts that come across as more comedic and do not work at all for the darker and more serious tone. The pacing and tone are also very inconsistent, as the film isn’t sure whether it wants to stick with something more slow-burning to build tension and potentially make scenes more impactful, or something faster paced to make the story feel more energetic and exciting. Mackenzie also doesn’t handle the shifts to random comedic beats well at all, and they feel not only forced as a result, but very jarring. Lastly, the original score is not very good.

As for the acting, it’s a mixed bag, as most of the performances are far too over the top and bring down any bit of potential that their characters may have, which in itself isn’t much. This especially applies to Billy Howle, who gives a performance so hilariously horrid that you’ll likely be laughing whenever his character yells, which happens quite often. He turns his character, who is already paper-thin, into a one-note caricature. It’s possibly one of the worst performances I’ve seen all year. However, there are still a few performances here from clearly committed actors. Chris Pine is very good as Robert the Bruce, and manages to carry the film (even if he can’t save it), but the standout performance easily comes from Florence Pugh, who is fantastic in the role of Elizabeth de Burgh, doing so much with so little. Aaron Taylor-Johnson also provides decent work as James Douglas.

As someone who really liked Hell or High Water, it almost seems fitting to call Outlaw King a disappointment, but given that this had five writers, it isn’t too surprising that Outlaw King is a bad film. Sure, there are some entertaining bits to be found in Outlaw King and Florence Pugh is very much fantastic here, but the film as a whole is overall a mess and you will likely forget it shortly after watching it. All in all, Outlaw King is not worth your time.

I give Outlaw King a C-.