Film Review: OUTLAW KING (UK 2018) ***

Outlaw King Poster


David Mackenzie


Bathsheba Doran (screenplay by) (as Bash Doran), David Mackenzie (screenplay by)| 3 more credits »

OUTLAW KING, a lighter version of BRAVEHEART chosen to open this year’s Toronto 

International Film Festival is also known to be a Netflix original movie.  Netflix has come a long way at producing movies and can now be known for some good solid cinema.

OUTLAW KING, based historical events takes place after BRAVEHEART, though the story of the war between the English and the Scots never ends.  Few dramatized segments like the reunion of King and kidnapped queen on a deserted Scots beach help spice the movie.

MacKenzie has mounted a handsome production at a cost of $120 million, quite different from his last entry an American heist film that also starred Pine.  Here in OTULAW KING, it is horses, mud and the beautiful but dreary Scots landscape.

There is a lot of history to be told in the film, before the story of Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) begins.  MacKenzie effectively gets this out of the way in the film’s first segment when King Edward of England forces Robert into allegiance with the English.  The villain of the piece is Robert’s old friend now a sworn enemy, the Prince of Wales (Billy Howle, the handsome lad from ON CHESIL BEACH looking sufficiently ugly and nasty for this role) who seems to be an uncouth loud-mouth that nobody respects, not even his father, King Edward.

Relief from the war is provided by the romance between King Robert and his wife, Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh) given to him by Edward, King of England (at the start of the movie).  She is a feisty female who stands by the side of her husband and not afraid to say what she feels is right.  Robert has a daughter, Marjorie from his wife who died while giving birth.  They remain chaste on their wedding night and consummate the marriage much later.  Audience will find the wait worthwhile in a steamy sex scene that lasts too short a time.  An additional bonus includes Pine’s full frontal nudity shot when he takes a dip in the river later on in the film.  The romance makes the film more personal as audiences can relate to a family.  When Robert promises to fight a foe, one-on-one the next day, the worry of a wife for her husband rings real.

There is a lot of story that goes with the film – how Robert became King of the Scots through the priests (only briefly shown) , his allegiance to a new ally, James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and how Robert rounds up an army of Scots with the help of Lords still loyal to him, who are willing to go back to war.  Director MacKenzie effectively gets this out of the way to prepare for the main course – the battle between the Scots and the English at Loudoun Hill.

MacKenzie, no stranger to gut violence and gore, having made his mark also in horror films, shocks his audience with a few stomach-turning scenes like the live gutting of a Scots by the English.  The battle scenes are also sufficiently violent with lots of screaming and blood.

The TIFF version ran close to 2 and a half hours, but Netflix cut the film down to a 2 hour version, the one that is being reviewed.  This new edit arrives just the week before the film opens on Netflix.  I have not seen the longer version, but this one is sharp no-nonsense story-telling that is compelling enough for the average moviegoer from start to finish.



hell_of_high_water.jpgHELL OR HIGH WATER (USA 2016) ****
Directed by David MacKenzie

Starring: Dale Dickey, Ben Foster, Chris Pine

Review by Gilbert Seah

The term HELL OR HIGH WATER is the phrase used in contracts that demand payment regardless. It is also the title of the new film directed by David MacKenzie (ASYLUM and his last excellent film STARRED UP) and brilliantly written by Taylor Sheridan (SICARIO), the script of which won the 2012 Black List of Screenplays.

The film begins with an exciting bank robbery. The bank is robbed by two brothers, Toby (Chris Pine) and the recently out-of-jail Tanner (Ben Foster). It is a case of Good Crook, Bad Crook variation of Good Cop, Bad Cop. Toby, the good crook needs the money for payments on the house his children has inherited from his recently deceased mother. Toby is separated from his wife and children. The payments must be made HELL OR HIGH WATER or Toby will lose much, much more as the property is spouting oil.

The film does not have one main protagonist but three. Toby appears to be the main one, but his volatile brother and the retiring sheriff after them are also given due attention. Sheriff Marcus (Jeff Bridges) is the most interesting of the three, a wise-cracking, gruff and smart veteran who constantly cracks racist jokes at his indian deputy Alberto (Gil Birmingham). The film could very well be another version of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

The film is well performed by everyone especially Bridges who turns out an Oscar Winning performance. His mannerisms and drawl fit perfectly his character of an aging, fed-up law enforcer. Chris Pine proves he can do more than Captain Kirk in STAR TREK.

MacKenzie knows how to create excitement. The camera is placed, for example in the getaway car, all jittery but capturing the desperation of escaping the cops. The shootout scene at the end of the film is also meticulously staged. The film also contains a superb climax – a verbal showdown between Toby and Marcus. The music by Australian actor, singer song-writer Nick Cave is a pleasure, also adding atmosphere and mood to the film. The film is interspersed with his songs.

The film was originally titled Comancheria. The reason can be seen in one of the film’s best written and key scene when Tanner confronts a comanche in a casino. Comanche means ‘enemy of everyone’, the comanche tells Tanner. “Then I am one,” he retorts. “An enemy?” asks the comanche angrily. “No, a comanche.” The description of Tanner’s character is spot on, Tanner being a volatile man who cannot get along with anyone, less his brother and has been in prison in and out a couple of times. Another scene, which is so funny that has to be seen to be believed is the age old waitress who serves the sheriff and his deputy in a restaurant asking, “What can’t I get you?” The film and script is full of inventive surprises and smart humour, which adds on to the plot.

The story also bears a truth about human beings. If you ask most people what the main goal or aim in life of a man is, the ultimate answer is to see their children do at least as well or better than them. For Toby, whose only expert advice he can give his son is: “Do not be like me,” the one way he can be a good father and satisfy his goal in life is to provide for his two sons by making final payment on the house before disclosure by the bank.

Director MacKenzie has made an excellent film on a well written script with prized dialogue. It is good to see that he could do the same for a script without dialogue as in the case of his last film, STARRED UP, where the dialogue in heavy accent need not be understood for the film to be appreciated.

HELL OR HIGH WATER premiered at Cannes at Un Certain Regard. It is an excellent entertaining and rewarding film hat comes highly recommended. And the film gets my vote for Best Original Script this year.