A Black Mirror-esque thriller that evokes more of an “oh, ok” response than a “wow!”
Outlaw King tells the tale of how Scotland won their independence from the English in the 1300’s. We have seen a version of this story in the 1995 Academy Award winning movie Braveheart. Outlaw King chooses to focus on how Sir Robert Bruce became the King of Scots, rather than on Sir William Wallace’s rebellion. It was a good idea to keep Wallace to a brief glimpse rather than someone attempting to do their best Mel Gibson impression.
Outlaw King has the impossible task of attempting to escape the shadow of Braveheart. Even over 20 years later, when you use nearly the same cast of characters as the greatest movie of all time you have to expect the comparisons. While Outlaw King may be slightly more historically accurate, it pales to Braveheart in every other regard.
Chris Pine does a fine job of portraying Robert Bruce despite his mullet and sporadic Scottish accent. I was most disappointed with Stephen Dillane. I was very much looking forward to him as King Edward. However, he was not as intimidating and seemed far less regal than he did as Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones. And of course you cannot have a medieval epic without a James Cosmo cameo (you will recognize him when you see him).
All in all, Outlaw King is a good Netflix watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon, but it won’t be winning any awards.
Hyperviolent. Hyperactive. Hyperbolic.
Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes For Us is a visceral mashup of martial arts and gore that is the clear answer to the question “What if The Raid movies had as much blood as the Crazy 88 fight from Kill Bill?” It is frenetic in its pacing only taking breaks to give bits of a story that relies heavily on existing action movie tropes. But you don’t watch a film like this for its plot. You watch it in order to gawk at the action, laugh at the gore, and turn to the person next to you and say “holy $%*#!”
The comparisons to Gareth Evans’ The Raid franchise are unavoidable. Tjahjanto directs his action scenes in a manner that lands somewhere between being a complete Evans knockoff and “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” Furthering the comparisons are the faces that anyone familiar with The Raid films will recognize. This film stars Joe Taslim (The Raid: Redemption), Iko Uwais (Both Raid films), and several other actors that appeared in The Raid 2: Berandal. Either of these alone would be enough to see the resemblance between the films, but when put together, it gives the impression that anyone still holding out hope for The Raid 3 probably just got the closest film you will ever get to that.
For all of the similarities though, The Night Comes For Us is simply not on the same level as either of The Raid films. Gareth Evans proved to have an almost incomparable eye for the ability to combine cinematography with the kinetic brutality of martial arts. Both Raid films reshaped an entire genre from a filmmaking standpoint. By comparison, Tjahjanto’s choreography feels slower and less fluid. It tries to mask this by distracting the audience with ultra-brutality and, for the most part, it works. But this sleight of hand doesn’t help build any tension despite a seemingly non-stop string of fights. The Raid was a violent action film, but it was grounded. By contrast, The Night Comes For Us is so aggressively exaggerated that it is hard to tell when any of the characters are in danger.
Anyone that watches The Night Comes For Us will most likely not put a lot of stock in its flaws — and rightfully so. It is an action movie masquerading as a gore-fest. Or perhaps it is a gore-fest masquerading as an action movie. Either way, it is an insane, should-be-X-rated bloodbath of epic proportions that basks in its own absurdity and dares you to watch without looking away or getting squeamish.
Hold the Dark, director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow up to Blue Ruin and Green Room, drops the color-themed titles in favor of brightness — or rather the lack thereof. It is a film that is as bleak as its Alaskan wilderness setting. While Saulnier’s signature moments of thick tension and hyperviolence are still present, what is lost and sorely missed is the razor-like plot.
Saulnier seems to be aiming for a more arthouse take on some of his familiar motifs. It is an undoubtedly intriguing goal, but it’s as though he thought that by simply removing elements of the plot, the film would automatically become “artsy.” Instead, it becomes vaguer and, at times, genuinely confusing as to why things are happening the way they are. Worse, layers upon layers of visual metaphors are used to construct the plot in what ends up feeling like a mess of wet paper mache that hasn’t quite dried and taken shape yet.
The main actors all turn in solid performances though they feel underleveraged. Jeffrey Wright is the stoic, innocent outsider whose primary function seems to be to relate the evil human behavior on the screen to that of raw nature which his character is familiar with. Unfortunately, it never feels like he’s providing any unique insight into what’s happening that the audience can’t piece together on its own. Riley Keough is creepily intriguing but not given enough screen time to really explore the endless possibilities that description represents. Alexander Skarsgård is menacing but never strays from his robotic terminator mode. The best performance comes from James Badge Dale who seems like the only normal, relatable character in this entire film.
Hold the Dark is like a mashup of Wind River and True Detective. It is beautifully shot and has pieces of a story that deserves to be told in a much more coherent fashion. Like a puzzle in which someone has deliberately thrown away some of the pieces, you know what it is supposed to be, but you can’t quite see all of it as it should have been. It is a film with little depth that tries too hard to portray just how deep it thinks it is.