There’s a certain alchemy to knocking movies off your watchlist. The film you wind up settling on after listlessly flicking through Netflix or iTunes’ offerings depends on a variety of factors: who you’re with, how much longer you’re willing to keep weighing your potential options, how much time you have available to you, and so on.
The sole reason I chose to watch Outlaw King on a Friday night--instead of say, Verhoeven’s Flesh and Blood or Tarkovsky’s Stalker (both have sat on my watchlist for some time now)--was not a complex one.
I watched Outlaw King for Chris Pine’s dick.
And much like Captain Nu-Kirk’s peen, Outlaw King is more shower than grower. It’s often a very beautiful film, just as its main cast is made up of very beautiful people (buried under weird haircuts or yellowed teeth), but there’s not a lot behind any of that beauty.
The film’s major flaw is not Pine, as some reviews have suggested. He does an admirable job with what he’s got, but he’s basically got nothing. The true issue is the slavishness of the screenplay to actual events.
The script, written by Bathsheba Doran, James Macinnes, and the film’s director David Mackenzie, barrels through the trials and tribulations of Pine’s Robert the Bruce at light speed. When we first meet him, he and his fellow Scottish lords have abdicated all claims to the Scottish throne, thereby ceding power to King Edward I of England. Soon thereafter, William Wallace--that other Scottish revolutionary, famously played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart--is drawn and quartered (offscreen), and his body parts are hung from a rock (onscreen), and BAM! Robert the Bruce doesn’t want the British stomping around Scotland anymore. What follows is a not very successful mission (at least not at first) to get the other Scottish lords to back Robert the Bruce’s revolution and his eventual crowning as the true King of Scotland.
In all this time, we’ve barely learned anything about Robert the Bruce. One of the things you’d probably expect from a lead character in a war epic is that he’s a gifted warrior of one sort or another. But in the engrossing eight minute one-shot that opens the film, he drunkenly duels the psychotic Prince of England and he’s sort of...just okay at deflecting his opponent’s frenzied slashes and thrusts. In that same regard, we don’t get the sense that Robert the Bruce is much of a tactician either--he loses a lot over the course of the film. The English consistently trick and outsmart him, beat his army by brute force, and hunt him to the ends or Scotland. And yet, the men loyal to his cause never waver in their belief that they’ve backed the right guy.
That last part is the really the most baffling component of the screenplay’s thin character work. Robert the Bruce is basically devoid of leadership abilities. He’s got no charisma, no silver tongue, nothing as written or performed that seems to encourage anyone to do anything. So the questions is why? Why does anyone follow him?
The answer is because the history books and the script say so.
At least there’s Chris Pine’s dick, right? WRONG. The big reveal is hardly a reveal at all. You’d think in 2018, after decades and decades of full-frontal female nudity, that we’d finally be able to gander at an unobscured, center-aligned image of a man like Chris Pine’s penis. Not only are we denied the necessary storytelling to make this movie a compelling one, but we’re also denied the very thing that most of us turned on the movie for in the fist place!