STARRING: Jared Leto, Kippei Shiina, Shiori Kutsuna, Tadanobu Asano, Nao Ōmori, Min Tanaka, Emile Hirsch, Rory Cochrane and Young Dais
An epic set in post-WWII Japan and centered on an American former G.I. who joins the yakuza.
The Outsider takes place in Osaka, Japan, 1954, where we find an American named Nick Lowell serving time in an Osaka prison following the Second World War. Most of the other inmates in the prison are Yakuza criminals and he saves the life of one named Kisyoshi, whose Shiromatsu Yakuza clan repays his debt by arranging Nick’s release and he ends up finding himself working for the Yakuza and being caught up in a war against rival clan the Seizu Yakuza.
The Outsider is the latest film to come out under the Netflix banner and is directed by Martin Zandvliet, whose last film Land of Mine earned him an Oscar nomination last year for Best Foreign Language Film. The film focuses on Jared Leto’s Nick Lowell, an American that finds himself caught up in the world of the Yakuza, after helping one of the high-ranking members of the Shiromatsu family escape from an Osaka prison.
The Outsider, at its best, is a well made looking film with some nice cinematography from Camilla Hjelm. I also like the title credits, almost television series-esque however it’s stylishly done in the terms of how it is edited together. The plot line of the warring clans, the Shiromatsu Yakuza and the Seizu Yakuza, had me somewhat invested throughout and I did like the performances from Kippei Shiina as Orochi and Tadanobu Asano as Kiyoshi.
The main issue with the film is like it’s main character, it’s just so tedious and devoid of personality. You can make parallels to Leto’s Lowell to Ryan Gosling’s driver in Drive as both of them are stoic, are mostly silent figures and when they perform violent acts, it’s meant to be very effective and hard hitting in contrast to their personality. Unfortunately Leto’s Lowell is too much of a blank canvas, emotionless as he saunters silently through the films runtime. Granted, I wouldn’t put all the blame on Leto’s performance as the script from Andrew Baldwin (whose previous screenplay was 2016’s Bastille Day, also known as The Take depending what country you’re from) is just as generic and riddled with cliches. There’s the plot line of a rat within the Shiromatsu that’s feeding information to the Seizu that’s treated with a lack of finesse or intrigue that when the Shiromatsu find out who it is, you’re just as shocked as they as they are, only your thinking ‘Who else did you think it was going to be?’. Nick’s involvement with the Shiromatsu is also meant to serve as a catalyst for a few plot points, yet as one example it feels like ‘the rat’ was always turning on the Shiromatsu (even though Nick’s presence may have escalated the proceeding events).
The film may be called The Outsider, yet it doesn’t feel like Nick goes through enough trials and tribulations to earn his status of being a member of the Yakuza, though to be fair the film has a two hour runtime to tell the story. The story itself has the components of what could be a good film, but unfortunately we follow Jared Leto’s character who is emotionless and very difficult to route for as he falls under the silent but violent protagonist category and it’s not helped that the script lacks substance. Shame to as it’s a well shot and good looking film. 4/10