As a filmmaker, director David Mackenzie takes a more reigned-in approach to European history. After a bit of text on screen establishes the time (1304) and the place (Scotland) along with some necessary context, the movie opens with an intricately staged, lengthy opening shot that shows Pine, rocking a mullet that wouldn't look out of place on a Def Leppard roadie, swearing fealty to English King Edward I (Stephen Dillane) and crossing swords with Edward's loathsome son, Prince Edward (Billy Howle). Eventually, Edward I uses a catapult to flex some military muscle. Mackenzie appears to be doing the same thing with his long take, but there's no discernible point to it and the movie soon switches to a more straightforward style.
With a story like this -- one filled with shocking betrayals, daring escapes, and stomach-churning horse deaths -- the less flashy approach works. Robert the Bruce initially attempts to keep the truce with the English, but he's enraged by the cruelty of the King's army and begins creating alliances between different Scottish factions. (This includes a wild-eyed madman played with cartoonish intensity by Aaron Taylor-Johnson.) Despite its hefty $90 million budget, Outlaw King has a modesty to it that matches Robert's tactics-obsessed, ground-level leadership. He's not one for speeches; he doesn't sweep his new wife Elizabeth (Florence Pugh) off her feet with grand romantic gestures; he always remains focussed on the task in front of him.
When the fighting breaks out, the combat is swift and chaotic. Instead of the slick, splash-page imagery of a movie like King Arthur: Legend of the Sword or 300, Mackenzie favors handheld cinematography that captures the immediacy and horror of watching men bash away at each other in a bog as bodily fluids spray in the sunlight. You've seen conflicts like this before. The more memorable sights, like Elizabeth being held in a cage above water and horse hooves crushing apples as they gallop, come in between the hacking.