The TIFF Opening Night Review – Outlaw King

Our guest writer/correspondence John H Foote writes about the opening night movie at TIFF – Outlaw King.

Though made for the streaming company Netflix, ‘Outlaw King’, which opened TIFF night at Roy Thompson Hall deserves to be, no, demands to be seen on a vast movie screen. The better to take in the glorious helicopter shots, the lush greenery of old Scotland, and the superb battle sequences inspired by ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and HBO’s ‘Games of Thrones’. The film is an argument, like ‘Roma’, for the streaming naysayers, a bold, huge film that draws upon memories of the best of David Lean without ever quite matching the artistry of his work. Director David McKenzie gave us the sparse, brilliant ‘Hell or High Water’ (2016) with Chris Pine and Ben Foster, and impresses even more with this massive picture.

The story is that of Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine), who we know from ‘Braveheart’ (1995), the Academy Award-winning epic directed by Mel Gibson and starring the actor as William Wallace. According to that film Bruce unwittingly betrayed Wallace leading to his violent death, only to rally his men to attack the British at the conclusion of the film, carrying on Wallace’s fight for freedom. The film picks up pretty much at that moment, with Bruce as the young king of Scotland trying to get from under the foot on English rule. King Edward I (Stephan Dillane) enjoys having Scotland under his thumb, even more, enjoys the power he has over Bruce, or rather the power he thinks he has, as Bruce gathers his armies for an all-out assault. The Scots continue their battle for their independence from British rule, proudly marching into war against a superior enemy who has just invented the deadly catapult. There is something terribly noble about marching towards certain death for something they believe in, which McKenzie captures with beautiful visual poetry. His strength as a director up to now has been the performances he draws from his actors.

While Ben Foster might have gotten the best reviews, and Jeff Bridges the Oscar nomination, the best work in ‘Hell or High Water’ was that of Chris Pine as the quiet, more thoughtful brother. Here as Robert the Bruce, he is brilliant, giving the best performance of his career and making clear that is both movie star and actor. Still best-known to audiences as the young James T. Kirk in the ‘Star Trek’ reboot, they might think of him differently after this. Brooding, angry, yet fiercely devoted to his men, who he loves like brothers, Pine creates a fascinating character that men would follow into battle. His blazing blue eyes bring an intensity to the role I did think he would achieve, yet he does, with apparent ease. It is a brave performance, containing full frontal nudity, brave for anyone, male or female, and such an honest portrayal or a king and warrior.

Aaron-Taylor Johnson is outstanding as always as his right-hand man, James Duncan, a grizzled bearded warrior who happily die for the Bruce if asked to do so. So good in ‘Kick-Ass’ (2010), even better in ‘Nocturnal Animals’ (2016) Johnson continues to impress as an actor.

The film marks an obvious evolution for McKenzie, moving from intimate drama to massive epic and he pulls it off beautifully. If the Academy is not biased against Netflix films, and we know they will be, this could grab some Oscar attention. It certainly had the full attention of the audience last night.

The Cinemawala Rating: 3/5

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John H. Foote is among the best-known film critics in Canada and has been active as a critic for thirty years.
His career began as co-host, co-producer of the popular movie talk and review program Reel to Real. He left the show after ten years for his first love, print criticism, he longed to write about movies. For two years he wrote for Toronto Life and Fashion Magazine, his work quote in the LA and New York Times, as well as major papers across North America. He was offered a position writing for the internet and has since written for incontention.com, thewrap.com, screenrant.com, awardscircuit.com and most recently thecinemaholic.com. In May 2018 he started his own site Footeandfriendsonfilm.com, which has enjoyed great success its first few months.
Foote was also involved in film education teaching film history and film genre at Trebas Institute before leaving to be Dean of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history and continued his work as a critic.
Foote has written two books, “Clint Eastwood: Evolution of a Filmmaker”, and “Spielberg: American Film Visionary” (due in 2019). His third, “American Cinema in the Seventies” is due for release in 2020.
Through his career, he has interviewed everyone in the business except Jack Nicholson!

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