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Categories: Movie Reviews

Despite a slick look, occasionally impressive period detail and every gangster movie cliche you can think of, The Outsider is never powerful enough to cut deep.

The Outsider will almost certainly come to be known as “Jared Leto’s The Outsider” even though Jared Leto neither wrote nor directed the film, primarily because he’s the only really noteworthy thing about the entire project. Which is not a good thing, obviously, and even less of a good thing when measured against how bland his performance is.

Leto, despite his fame and even an Oscar to his name, is not a leading man in film. He’s been the most notable part of many of the films he’s been in and the frontman of one of the biggest alternative rock bands in the world, but if he does have the ability to “carry a film”, as it were, then it’s a skill that he’s yet to demonstrate.

The script for The Outsider, written by Andrew Baldwin, had been circulating Hollywood for some time, as evidenced by its inclusion on The Blacklist (circa 2011, if I recall correctly) before eventually landing in the laps of Netflix, a company desperate to prove the diversity and pedigree of feature films which they can produce, and Danish director Martin Zandvliet.

I can’t claim to have seen Zandvliet’s previous, and very well-received, directorial effort Land of Mine but I can surmise, based on what does work about The Outsider, that his skill mostly lies in period detail, and maybe even post-war commentary, but not in the pacing and technique of the gangster genre. The Outsider is brimming with the trappings of the greats but contains none of the requisite punch or pizzazz.

What little of 1950s Osaka that you do get to see, out and about on the streets, is marginally impressive considering the scope that a still-budding production company like Netflix could achieve but both the settings for the scenes, and the characters and situations within them, are far too boxy and unremarkable to be called anything other than lifeless.

Leto plays former American soldier Nick Lowell, who is every bit as boring as his name, and comes to very quickly develop a relationship with Tadanobu Asano’s character, simply known as Kiyoshi, as he joins and then, equally quickly, rises through the ranks of the local Yakuza. This seemingly light, but actually quite complete, description is representative of the film’s pervading problem, this being that the details of everything are so superficial that the entire film feels incidental.

From falling in love with your partner-in-crime’s sister to aging bosses facing overthrow by refusing to fall in line with the changing times, The Outsider plays all the hits but with never any more gusto than a cover band providing mood music for a half empty bar. Kiyoshi isn’t the only character with no last name, as far as I could tell none of the Japanese characters do; which is particularly odd given that the only other two white characters in the film, also Americans and also barely in the film at all, do.

I’m not sure if Zandvliet can speak Japanese or used a translator but the film’s blending of Japanese and American cultures in the immediate post-war period is certainly as clunky as the dialogue. What saves it is some great use of lighting from DOP Camilla Hjelm, who also worked with Zandvliet on Land of Mine, and the authenticity of the props and sets.

The Outsider certainly isn’t going to be considered a must-watch or a classic, now or ever, but it provides an outlet for viewers who may be searching for uncomplicated, undemanding, gangster flicks. There certainly isn’t a shortage in supply so I can only assume that there isn’t a shortage in demand. Its tone and personality are unusually, and consciously, subdued but the film never balances that with interesting outbursts.

The Outsider is available to view now on Netflix.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a copywriter, and lifelong cinephile, who received his bachelors in Film and Comparative Literature from the University of London. You can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

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Posted on Mar 12, 2018

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