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Non-Review Review: Outlaw King

Outlaw King opens with a very impressive tracking shot, or what at least appears to be a very impressive tracking shot. The sequence lasts more than eight minutes, wherein the audience follows the action at the Scottish surrender to King Edward I. The camera follows various actors at they move through the scene, from inside the tent with King Edward I to the congress outside in the mud. The scene features an impressive sword fight, before heading back into the tent and out the other side, to the point where Kind Edward I has a massive trebuchet waiting.

The Scottish have surrendered. The revolution has failed. The lords of the region have bowed before the British Crown and sworn fealty to the throne. This gigantic instrument of war seems redundant, pointless. It has no purpose in this particular situation. Nevertheless, King Edward insists that the trebuchet be loaded, and discharged towards a prominent Scottish castle on the nearby hill. Edward explains that this is a gesture of authority, making it clear that the surrender is “final.” He adds, “Also, it took three months to build. So I don’t want to waste it.”

Great Scot!

It is an interesting introductory scene for a number of reasons. Most obviously, it is incredibly technically impressive. Director David Mackenzie is really just showing off here, demonstrating how much control he has over the film, how carefully managed the choreography is, how perfectly he can time the rhythms of the action to the movement of his camera. The introductory scene very skillfully introduces most of the major players and key dynamics that will inform the action that follows, in manner that is graceful and never overwhelming. It’s technically impressive.

At the same time, the entire sequence feels just a little bit like Edward’s gigantic trebuchet and perhaps even a little bit like the film as a whole. It is a wonderfully constructed piece of work that feels over-elaborate and over-complicated for what it is doing. Outlaw is a beautiful film underpinned by some intriguing ideas about power and violence, much like Mackenzie’s work on Hell or High Water. Unfortunately, Outlaw King lacks the warmth and humanity of Hell or High Water. Like that absurd trebuchet, it feels a little overly ornate and never entirely sure of its purpose.

A Brucie Bonus.

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