REVIEW: The Outsider (2018)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of The Outsider — Directed by Martin Zandvliet.

Winning an Oscar used to mean an actor would get a bigger push. It used to really mean something. But in the case of Jared Leto, who won an Oscar for his transformative performance in the mostly forgotten biopic Dallas Buyers Club, it hasn’t really meant that much, other than the fact that films like The Outsider can put ‘Academy Award winner’ on its poster. 

Since winning the Oscar, his best performance has been as a minor supporting character in the sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner 2049, but even that performance has not done anything to change his reputation, which took a serious hit when Jared Leto tried his hand at method-acting in Suicide Squad where he played a different version of the iconic Batman villain, the Joker. Stories of how he would treat his Suicide Squad-castmates has drowned out any praise that the rock star got after winning for Dallas Buyers Club.

The Outsider, a straight-to-Netflix film about a white man becoming a member of the yakuza, from Danish filmmaker Martin Zandvliet likely won’t do his reputation any good either. The Outsider is a dud. Jared Leto plays Nick Lowell, an American soldier, who, after befriending and helping his cellmate Kiyoshi (played by Tadanobu Asano), is set free from a Japanese prison. Once out of prison, Kiyoshi is quick to offer Nick the opportunity to become a part of the family, as it were. But not every member of the yakuza is okay with a gaijin (a foreigner) becoming one of their brothers.

Now, I should say that I am a fan of Jared Leto. I’ve attended concerts that he played with his band Thirty Seconds to Mars, and I do like some of his work in film, but he really needs to get back on track. His awful portrayal of the Joker in Suicide Squad might end up being the career-defining performance, if he isn’t careful about his projects. Unlike Blade Runner 2049, nothing about The Outsider makes it seem appealing to an actor trying to repair his reputation.

Although I had planned to watch The Outsider the very day that it was released, it took me the entire weekend to get through it. I switched the film off three or four times, and I only ended up finishing the film because of my hope for Jared Leto and, frankly, due to the fact that it was made by a Danish director. But it really wasn’t worth the time I put into watching it. It is such a dull film.

As a matter of fact, I was so bored out of my mind that I, at one point, started thinking about why Leto would want to do this movie, and somewhere along the way I started thinking about his band’s song titles and their music videos. For example, the only reason I could come up with for why Jared Leto would be interested in doing this film was that he perhaps has this intense fascination with Asian culture, which I presume that he does due to the fact that the music video for the song “From Yesterday,” (which can be seen as a tribute to The Last Emperor) was shot entirely in China.

But the main thought that came out of that digression during the film was that this film would work better as a single montage to be used as the music video for the song “Stranger in a Strange Land,” (mostly due to the title of the song and not due to the lyrics). It is pretty damning that I think a two-hour film would work better as a music video for a 7-minute long song. That would certainly be more interesting and memorable than this film.

To be perfectly frank, I had a tough time highlighting even a single moment as being memorable from this film. Really, the only moment that was at all interesting in what is actually not entirely an incompetently made film was when, around the hour mark, Jared Leto’s character is taken up to a long line of yakuza members during his initiation. I thought that it was a visually appealing shot, and it is a shame that the film didn’t get to this moment sooner.

Because the lead-up to the initiation is punishing. The first act is incredibly dull and, except for a moment with a bad joke about a penguin and multiple scenes depicting violence, nothing really happens to grip you. But the violence is perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the film. Fingers are removed, and multiple throats are slit. Even in one of the very first scenes in the film someone is hanged. Zandvliet doesn’t shy away from depicting gruesome acts of violence. But it doesn’t really mean much when the film as a whole is, ultimately, bland and boring.

Kiyoshi, Nick’s cellmate, played by Takanobu Asano is perhaps the most interesting character in the film precisely because he, for some reason, wants to make this gaijin a member of the family, so to speak. But all of the performances are uninspiring, and, with no tension to speak of, watching this film becomes similar to watching paint dry at some points. Also, Emile Hirsch appears late in the film, but he is gone before you know it. Leto, himself, doesn’t really add anything to the film, besides his androgynous good looks.

Going in, I had thought the action in the film would be worth watching it, but there really isn’t much to speak of that is at all memorable. It is all violence and patience until the film comes to an end. Again, The Outsider is a dud. It isn’t remotely interesting enough to call a disaster, but there certainly isn’t anything you get out of watching it. As I mentioned earlier in the review, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the film would’ve worked better as a music video cut to the music of Leto’s band, of which I am a fan. Because, on its own, The Outsider is dull and uncompelling.

4.5 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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