Netflix is looking for a hit with Outlaw King, a new original film that seems half Braveheart and half Game of Thrones. And while the movie stars the charismatic Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce, looking to lead an uprising to take the country back from English rule, the early reviews say this one's more of a slog than a trek.
And while Pine's much-talked-about full-frontal nude scene may be stirring up a lot of attention, it seems as if the rest of the film can't provide enough material. Here's what the critics are saying about The Outlaw King.
The New York Times
At the New York Times, Manohla Dargis' review praises performances but notes a terrible overall vibe.
"Pine of course plays Robert and offers an excuse to watch “Outlaw King” whether he’s staring thoughtfully into the picturesque Scottish distance or expressing alarm, grief or determination. These modes indicate the limitations of the character, though Pine recurrently manages to dig deeper into Robert than the dialogue does. He puts flesh on the man by tapping into his humor, longing, dread and gentleness, qualities that convey the story’s most painful stakes better than any battle."
"There are periodic cutaways, including to Robert’s new English bride, Elizabeth (the appealing Florence Pugh), whom Edward marries off for diplomatic reasons. Pugh helps elevate this thin character, furnishing Elizabeth with enough of an inner life that you, like Robert, miss her whenever they separate."
"There’s nothing new about the abbreviated history you find in "Outlaw King" a monotonous slog through the life and brutally terrible times of Robert the Bruce (1274-1329), a Scottish noble who fought — and fought — the English."
"Mackenzie does nice, tight work now and again, mostly in more intimate sequences, but too many scenes drag, and his fetishistization of violence proves numbing."
At Vanity Fair K. Austin Collins echoes similar notes about the chemistry between Robert and Elizabeth providing the film's saving grace.
"Robert and Elizabeth’s marriage is painted in broad, enlightened strokes that, thanks to Pine and Pugh’s knack for cloistered flirtation, manages to be the best thing in the movie—if only for a too-brief while. “Are you enjoying yourself?” Robert asks his new bride at their wedding banquet. “Trying to,” she says, boldly. “Are you?” He’s impressed at her honesty."
"Still, there’s something humbly undercooked about Outlaw King. The movie … premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, on the big screen. … It’s [also] getting a theatrical release, but if not for belonging to the Netflix platform already, it’d be the perfect brainless, Saturday-afternoon TBS movie. Something to fold your laundry to—background noise as you organize your stamp collection."
"It’s funny to be watching a movie about nationalism—something of a hot topic right now—that gives off so little heat. Not because it’s unexpected—but because the missed opportunity seems both so obvious and so beside the point."
Andrew Lapin's review at NPR is all-negative, and the only one I found with negativity about Chris Pine's performance.
"Glaring at the head of the army as Bruce is Chris Pine, solidly in the middle of the pack of Hollywood Chrises. His inoffensively bearded face and chiseled body (which gets fully nude for a bathing scene) stand out among men who must wear chain-mail hoodies to hide their terrible haircuts, but he projects so little authority as king that even he seems surprised when different clans pledge their loyalty to him."
"The new cut is lean, and moves well, though neither Mackenzie nor his four credited co-writers manage to bang out a halfway insightful angle on a familiar story. It might explain why Hollywood doesn't make big history epics like this anymore: If there's nothing left to say about them, why bother to rent all those fields and train all those expensive horses?"
"Outlaw King fails to become the rightful heir to this throne, because it never goes big enough. Bruce's men wage their campaign in shadows instead of shouting their principles to the skies. They're largely humorless, and their victories are tactical but not very symbolic. Bruce's reputation may be restored, but our reasons for caring about it are not."
The LA Times
In contrast, Kenneth Turan's review for the Los Angeles Times is more positive, complimenting the film's pacing and sense of scale.
"Making excellent use of his “High Water” star Chris Pine as the Bruce, Mackenzie brings a contemporary sensibility as well as a sense of epic adventure and a passion for the period to a ripsnorter of a tale."
"Inevitably violent (though a disemboweling still seems excessive), as edited by Jake Roberts “Outlaw King” now moves along at a satisfyingly brisk pace. While we likely have not seen the end of Robert the Bruce on film, this for sure is a worthy addition to the canon."
Molly Freeman at Screen Rant provides a more-evenhanded review that provides praise for Outlaw King's cinematography before noting it seems like an off-brand version of a more-successful film.
"Outlaw King takes viewers deep into the Scottish countryside - using beautiful wide-shots of sweeping landscapes and nitty-gritty closeups of muddy, swampy fields to entrench audiences in the countryside. The director makes sure that the characters always blend seamlessly into the land, creating a film as much about the country as it is about the people.
"No doubt thanks to Pine's experience in rom-coms, Pine and Pugh are quietly the most endearing aspect of the movie as their relationship develops and they fall in love."
"Ultimately, Mackenzie's Outlaw King comes across as a pale imitation of a sweeping epic, having all the ingredients there for a compelling and exciting story, but unable to nail the execution."
"Outlaw King … it never quite reaches the potential promised by the talent involved, but it's serviceably entertaining for viewers at home looking to stream a movie rather than head to the theater. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case for many of Netflix's original movies, and Outlaw King does little to rise above that stigma."