The Outsider, directed by Martin Zandvliet, had plenty of elements that could have made it a compelling, thrilling film. But due the film failing to pay any meaningful attention to its main character (plus a stony performance from Jared Leto) it quickly results in a film and an experience that feels hollow and without anything worthy to grapple with mentally. It isn’t a badly made film from a technical standpoint, but The Outsider leaves much to be desired from a narrative standpoint. Let’s make our way into the review and see if there’s anything that makes this film worth your time.
Set in post-World War 2 Japan, we follow former American G.I., Nick Lowell – played by Jared Leto – who after a stint in a Japanese prison sees himself being recruited into the yakuza by, Kiyoshi – played by Tadanobu Asano – whose life he saved in prison. A tale of honour, betrayal and forbidden love soon unfolds before them all.
I like Jared Leto as an actor and have certainly enjoyed a number of his performances, but his work in, The Outsider is not a part of that list of films. Leto, in my opinion, was not the right casting choice for this film. His stone-like demeanour makes him a difficult person to connect with. There is almost no hint of emotion, or even life, in his face. His eyes give off nothing that would suggest there is a human being standing before you. This is why I usually find that Leto is best suited for villainous roles. He’s able to have a presence within a room that’s menacing or unnerving. Whereas in The Outsider, he fails to ever feel like a person and instead is more like a statue.
Nick as a character is given almost nothing that defines him as an individual. We know almost nothing about his past – other than that he was in the army – and when we become a part of his journey, he doesn’t ever develop. He’s stagnant. He is Nick Lowell and that’s pretty much it. Both Jared Leto’s performance and the lack of basic character development for Nick, results in their shortcomings feeling amplified. The more time I spent with them and the less and less I got from them, the more obvious the issue became. It culminated in me completely detaching myself from Nick as a character. I had no emotional want to care or connect to him and I had no real narrative reason to care or connect to him. He became a ghost within the film that simply made the plot move forward.
It was actually some of the supporting characters that I found people I cared about or was interested by. Kiyoshi was one of those supporting characters who I liked. There was an actual character within him who I wanted to learn more about. He had a history; he had people he cared for and respected. When harm came to him, I actually found myself worrying for his wellbeing. There were actual emotional responses. These were things that were never the case with Nick. I also found the character, Orochi – played by Kippei Shîna – to be interesting. What motivated his actions and the love that he had for his fellow Yakuza brothers made him someone who I felt I could understand. His actions made sense and from them a compelling antagonist formed.
The Outsider had characters, but it for some reason chose to explore their stories through a blank slate. Whose actions never felt earned and whose focus became a detriment to the rest of the film. Take its plot as another example. Yes, it is largely unoriginal and quite light on content for a lot of the first half of the film, but once it finds its direction, there were elements to it that interested me (though only very slightly). Had other characters received the focus of the story or had the main character had what was needed to make-up an actual character, I think the plot itself could have been fairly engaging. Which in turn would have made the more violent, action filled moments feel like they had any hint of tension or thrill.
It’s a shame. I could see that there was a good film somewhere deep within, The Outsider. Like I pointed out in the beginning, The Outsider isn’t a badly made film, technically. Martin Zandvliet is a talented director; his previous film, Land of Mine more than shows that. I think it’s in the script that this film is largely let down. I mean, to not take advantage of the fact that your main character is a former American soldier living and working in a post-World War 2 Japan, is a huge misstep in my opinion. That aspect alone seems rich in story opportunities. But other than a very minor sub-plot, the film does nothing substantial with it and then quickly buries it before it can become anything. Another failure by the film.
Other than some of the secondary characters, it was my appreciation for the culture of Japan and my love of how beautiful the country is, that I gained some level of enjoyment. Director, Martin Zandvliet and cinematographer, Camilla Hjelm do a wonderful job of showing the varied layers of Japan and never have it feel like their filming only the glamorous parts of Osaka; instead giving us a broad look at the inner workings of the city and what makes it tick.
Ultimately and unfortunately, The Outsider is a film that is more-or-less brought crumbling down by a single but crucial element. Despite a handful of opportunities, the film isn’t able to put its focus onto anything that grabs onto and subsequently holds onto your attention – and quickly becomes a sedate experience.
I would NOT recommend, The Outsider. For most of it I found myself in a sedate state of mind and sadly nothing ever pulled me out of that state. This is yet another film that despite being easily available on Netflix; is worth your time.
I’m interested to hear what you thought of, The Outsider and my review of it, so please leave any opinions or feedback you may have. If you liked what you read, may I suggest following both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as that way you’ll always know when I post something new or what my insignificant thoughts are on current movie news. But I’ll bring things to a close now by saying a sincere thank you to you for taking the time to read my review. I hope you have a great day!