The Outlaw King: Muddied Story, Battle Scenes Come Up Small

The Netflix original movie The Outlaw King poses as a watershed moment for the streaming company: could they successfully produce an epic historical drama that is shot for movie theaters, yet relegated for small screen consumption? Despite an A-list star, a golden premise, and a blockbuster budget, the medieval picture is an uninspiring film that slogs through a dynamic moment in Scottish history.

The Outlaw King depicts Robert the Bruce, a 14th Century noble who rebelled against the English. The film follows Robert as he endures harsh conditions and long odds in his bid for the Scottish crown.

The medieval costume drama is headlined by Chris Pine and Stephen Dillane, who portray rivals Robert the Bruce and English monarch Edward I. The pair lead an ensemble supporting cast bolstered by representation from HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Stephen Dillane as Edward I In The Outlaw King
Stephen Dillane as Edward I in The Outlaw King

Netflix spent $120 million to create the film. Outside of a final battle scene, there is little to show for the nine-figure budget. The story, action, and impact of the movie do not measure up to similar productions.

This is especially true of its immediate cinematic rival, Braveheart. Despite being mercifully shorter, the Netflix film lacks the greatness of Mel Gibson’s Best Picture Winner. The drama and élan of the William Wallace epic is not present in a film that is never better than just okay.

The cast of The Outlaw King is solid, but few of Pine’s cohorts are positioned to shine. Stephen Dillane is surprisingly underutilized as Edward I. His character is a far more measured portrayal than Patrick McGoogan’s turn in Braveheart. Unfortunately, Dillane does not receive the screen time or opportunity to build his character into a compelling villain.

This is not the only underdeveloped aspect of the film. The story is hampered by a cut and dry timeline. Some choices move the story along. Others confuse. Few scenes lead to any worthy emotional investment in the characters.

William Wallace is executed and Robert the Bruce is abruptly inspired to fight. Two main characters die as if they are from a soap opera. Castles are retaken with ease. Robert’s wife is dangled from a castle in a cage, but the torture is not portrayed as being particularly excruciating. Edward’s son is allowed to escape from a battle unmolested.

Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce during the Battle of Loudoun Hill in The Outlaw King
Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce during the Battle of Loudoun Hill in The Outlaw King

This includes the element of the film that likely consumed the biggest portion of The Outlaw King’s budget: the battle scenes.

Smaller action scenes in the movie are capable, but are not meant to be definitive like the only developed sequence in the film. In the large-scale Battle of Loudoun Hill, an army of English knights square off against Robert’s ragtag commoners in a muddy field.

These moments were meant to be the climax of the film, but they were anything but epic. Instead, the Loudoun Hill scene falls short of other medieval battles in Henry V, Game of Thrones, Braveheart, or Kingdom of Heaven. 

Given that the 1307 battle is the movie’s climax, the merely solid action continues the  film’s very ordinary qualities.

There is nothing special about The Outlaw King, which is a massive misfire for a company whose survival depends on generating buzz. The production informs the wider discussion of Netflix’s content plans. Netflix’s best programs are bingeworthy shows that make the service a worthwhile consumer investment. If Netflix is spending $127 million on a limited theatrical release that does not stand out from its own content options, what is the point?

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