This historical drama further proves that the ‘Hell or High Water’ director has given Pine some of the best films of his career.
I will always celebrate a good actor-director relationship because these collaborations are often the first to change my mind about movies that don’t typically sound super appealing on paper. For example, my Pavlovian response to anything dubbed a neo-Western is usually lukewarm at best, so why have films like Desperado, No Country for Old Men, and Hell or High Water gone against that grain? Honestly, the people behind the production make the biggest difference.
Chris Pine and filmmaker David Mackenzie comprise a promising creative team of this very vein. They each caught my eye separately at first; Mackenzie with his harrowing prison drama Starred Up and Pine…well, it was thanks to The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. They have come far in their careers since and affirmed their status as an unstoppable duo through Hell or High Water. In that film, Mackenzie and Pine discover a joint ability to turn something conventional into an airtight gut-wrenching cinematic experience.
Their next feature together, Outlaw King, could serve as a wonderful repeat engagement of such talents. This time, Mackenzie and Pine will traverse the historical action epic together as the latter takes on the role of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots and exiled hero. Netflix has released a trailer for the drama, which promises a laundry list of war movie tropes, complete with scenery chewing that includes rousing speeches and broody moments of contemplation. Still, through style and the promise of the ensemble’s performances, the film already looks stunning, with Pine’s presence resonating at the very center of it.
Outlaw King will track Robert the Bruce through a series of personal trials and tribulations through the battle for Scottish independence. Upon seizing the throne as King of Scots, Robert is forced into hiding by Edward I (Stephen Dillane). He eventually assembles his own guerrilla forces in order to reclaim the land from English occupation. Robert’s motley crew of warriors — including a loyal Sir James Douglas (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) — must then face off against one of the most powerful armies to fight for freedom and self-determination.
Already, Outlaw King feels like a spiritual sibling to Hell or High Water. Both films focus on the rise of the underdog, where the concept of virtue is fascinatingly malleable depending on character perspective. Furthermore, Pine is once again playing a quietly capable man who is thrust into the spotlight with some air of resignation about himself. His inner conflicts shine through in the trailer and truthfully, the obligatory “based on the untold true story” tagline doesn’t serve as much of a hook at all without this a vital dramatic fulcrum.
Pine switches up his bold magnetism for something more understated in Outlaw King. The actor is undoubtedly best known for his bigger budget offerings these days; he has most notably found fame navigating the final frontier and aiding Wonder Woman in defeating the Central Powers during World War I. Yet we’ve long been aware of Pine’s ability to transcend the confines of typecasting due to his experimentation across a multitude of genres. The same guy goofing off as a parody of his own princely leading man status in Into the Woods can turn around and deliver a weighted untrustworthy performance in Z for Zachariah. And then still steal hearts as Steve Trevor.
Pine is well-versed in bringing gravitas to polished action heroes through as much emotional dimension as a blockbuster can give him. However, his versatility properly shines in the gruffer, more grounded roles that he’s only peppered sparingly throughout his resume.
Pine and Mackenzie’s collaborations solidly deliver on the kind of gripping drama that the former deserves inhabit more regularly. Moreover, these films aren’t void of dynamism and excitement either, so they very much feel like the best of both worlds in entertaining cinema.
Hell or High Water‘s traditional cat-and-mouse chase includes sharply captured shootouts and stand-offs. Still, these scenes actually play out as confronting interludes to the dramatic, humorous, and otherwise human quality threaded throughout the wasteland of Mackenzie’s sparse and stark West Texan setting. These action sequences — tense and exhilarating as they are — would mean nothing without the constant re-establishment of relationship dynamics between Pine and co-star Ben Foster, as well as Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham in their parallel storyline.
We can only hope for the same set of circumstances to play out in Outlaw King. Establishing Robert’s desire for vengeance right at the beginning of the film’s trailer already presents a narrative with powerful emotional significance. This is then bolstered by portrayals of Robert’s kinship with James and his family, including his second wife Elizabeth de Burgh (Florence Pugh). These are the unwavering touchstones for his motivations as a leader that we’re on his side long before he delivers that final moving speech to a sea of faces in his army.
Pine is not short on success, but Outlaw King is on its way to truly celebrate his actorly merits in spades. Outlaw King will premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 6th before receiving a wide release on November 9th.