The Outsider (2018) Review

Smash the Gaijin

Netflix, it’s time for an intervention, you seem to be addicted to failure as of late in your film department. Ironic, considering your television choices have only gone from strength to strength, that you can’t hire diligent producers or even shrewd business people who want to release films people actually want to see it. Instead, the streaming service has been seen as a dumping ground for movies that are effectively straight-to-DVD productions, and this weekend’s latest is only contributing to the overall perception. Ironically, people were already slagging off The Outsider for featuring Jared Leto (already a bad choice for a lead) in a cast filled with nothing but Japanese actors and actresses, bringing up bad memories of whitewashing. However, please allow me to dispel the notion that Leto’s casting is the worst part about the film; it’s basically the only reason people are giving this absolute mediocre piece of garbage the time of day as literally anyone would have forgotten this film to anus of history.

“Don’t you mean ‘annals’?” No. No I do not

So Leto plays an American ex-soldier imprisoned for some unknown reason in 1954 Osaka, Japan where he assists a member of the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) named Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano). As thanks, Kiyoshi gets Leto released legally from prison and offers him illegal work with his gang under control of Akihiro (Min Tanaka). Despite being an idiot, Leto manages to get himself accepted into the gang to the delight of Kiyoshi’s sister, Miyu (Shiori Kutsuna), and to the chagrin of a rival Yakuza, Orochi (Kippei Shiina). Amidst all this, Akihiro’s gang becomes embroiled in an escalating war against the more powerful organization lead by Seizu (Nao Ōmori), which leads Leto to navigate increasingly troubled waters.

In summarizing the plot, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a simple rags to riches story a la Scarface or any odd Grand Theft Auto and it’s respective clones, and that’s because The Outsider is so painfully generic that it kept reminding me of better stories. And those stories actually had decent main characters with relatable conflicts or interesting dilemmas. This film, by contrast, doesn’t have a single character you give a shit about even though it practically chains you to Jared Leto for two hours.

“This is my happy face”

Now the film’s title explains the general conceit of the film: a gaijin (Japanese for outsider) endears himself to the Japanese mafia. However, Leto plays this character so alien, so cold, that it would be a miracle if he could endear himself to a goldfish. Leto spends most of the film standing ram rod stiff and staring at other characters like he just farted and is desperately trying to shift the blame of the eggy smell back to them. But the most bizarre thing about his character is that every character thinks he’s either the greatest person who ever lived or spawn of Satan. Yep, we are in true Mary Sue territory. Even though this guy doesn’t emote at all, have discernible goals of his own, and his history is pretty much kept in pitch dark secret; some characters treat him as a “brother” and one character wants to bone him silly.

This is where the Japanese supporting cast come in to play, and I genuinely feel sorry for each and every one of them. All of them showed up to work and showed actual pathos and effort in what they said and did. But seeing how well they act is all the more alienating when you see just how weird Leto acts in front of them. It’s like you’re watching an octopus in a three-piece suit move around a group of normal people, and the crowd doesn’t even blink or believe anything is wrong at all. It’s honestly surreal to watch. But what’s frustrating is that each supporting character has clearly defined ambitions, fears, goals and flaws that make up what a human being is supposed to be. So it’s a damn shame that Leto brings the whole affair down.

“This is my sad face”

Actually, it’s not just him that ruins the mood, it’s the way his character is written as well. This script comes to us from a second-time screenwriter named Andrew Baldwin, who’s only previous effort was a forgotten action movie from 2 years ago with Idris Elba (no I’m not going to bother you with the name, it’s that generic). Baldwin seems to know how to rip off far better crime dramas, but he fails to emulate anything that made them even remotely memorable with fascinating anti-heroes. In writing Leto’s character (no I will not name the character, I refused to grant the actor the legitimacy he was playing someone else), Baldwin crafts a cardboard cutout that is quite literally rewarded for doing the exact opposite of what he’s ordered to do and only receiving punishment for it once…in the Yakuza. Which if you read anything about these guys, they are ruthless as you can possibly imagine. And Japanese entertainment has only added to their mystique in various video games, films, and television shows. But The Outsider makes them look like a bunch of idiots who dress sharply, have tons of tattoos, and execute crimes in the clumsiest ways imaginable.

And hell for a crime drama, you’d think you’d be entreated to some dastardly schemes or witnessing some brutal executions like those found in classics like The Godfather or Goodfellas. But nope, The Outsider fails to entertain on even this basic level as nothing of interest happens save for three scenes of violence that are poorly shot, poorly choreographed, and not very unique to see. All this film has is the interplay between the protagonist and his supporting cast, and as we’ve established, there’s jack shit to appreciate there.

This was a project Netflix produced over a year and a half ago, and they thought they could ride the wave of Leto’s name with a unique premise. However, their main star slept walk through most of the performance and the company greenlit a script that’s so shockingly generic that I’m surprised they couldn’t see it was merely 120 pages of blank space. Don’t waste your time online with this movie, you’re better off catching on the upteen billion other shows worth a damn on the service. This is…


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