Review: Outlaw King

Director and star of Hell or High Water David MacKenzie and Chris Pine reteam to give the story of Robert the Bruce the Game of Thrones treatment in this thoroughly mediocre historical action movie.

Robert the Bruce was a Scottish lord who rebelled against Edward 1st and crowned himself king in 1306, sparking a war between England and Scotland eventually leading to winning 400 years of Scottish independence.

I wasn’t overly blown away by either Hell or High Water or David MacKenzie’s other celebrated work Starred Up and at its very best this film is only the equal of those films at their weakest.

The film has fully five credited screenwriters so perhaps it's no surprise that the film's fundamental flaw is that it doesn't have any individuality, there's no distinct unique approach to its material, it's just a bland telling of the story that never feels convincing or historically accurate either. The script mostly consists of characters telling one another what is happening or what just happened or what is about to happen, strung together with endless incoherent battle scenes. At one point a character who I have sure died in an earlier scene resurfaces and most laughably when one character is yelling ‘do you know who I am?!' I genuinely couldn't tell who it was!

There is a similarly nasty, leering factor to the violence here that you get in some moments of Game of Thrones, with geysers of mud and CGI blood and endless identical shots of stabbing and slashing, making a spectacle of rape and slaughter, but at least in Thrones we had spent hours getting to know our characters beforehand and as I said I rarely even knew who I was seeing fight. This results in some of the most boring action I can remember and in a film that is a good 50% action scenes. Sadly the other 50% is little better, suffering from equally poor editing and lack of effective character development resulting in a film that neither makes itself comprehensible possible nor incentivises the viewer to want to follow it anyway.

The characters are all dull, and with the exception of the lovely Florence Pugh who is given so little to do that the film gives up and locks her in a garret for the second half, the performances are all unexceptional and bring little to their roles. Chris Pine is bland as Robert, showing neither great magnetism nor emotional range and Aaron Taylor Johnson is as much of a charisma vacuum as ever, totally unconvincing in a pointless supporting role. The only character who seems to actually have an identity is Billy Howle as the Prince of Wales...he’s playing Commodus from Gladiator... I said he had an identity, I never said it was a good one.

I suppose isn’t terrible and if you’re missing Game of Thrones and want your fix of bearded cardboard cutouts in chainmail knocking each other over then it will make for a forgettable two hours ill spent. But for audiences with a real interest in history or cinema, go watch Peterloo.

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