The Outsider Review
Prisoner of Gang War
Netflix's Jared Leto-starring crime thriller, The Outsider is nothing groundbreaking, but it's a slick and accessible introduction to the Yakuza.When American POW Nick Lowell (Jared Leto - Blade Runner 2049) saves the life of a fellow inmate, he gets a free pass to join the Brotherhood of the Yakuza, being embraced - for the most part - as one of their own courtesy of the man he saved, Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano - Thor). Taking to the violent life with his own US brand of short temper, he finds himself embroiled in a simmering pot of imminent gang war, whilst his romantic involvement with Kiyoshi's sister Miyu (Deadpool 2) threatens to complicate his already precarious existence.Danish director Martin Zandvliet's The Outsider is a slick and stylish crime drama, well-paced and well-edited, telling a story which those well-versed in Yakuza crime stories (or any gangster films, for that matter) will likely be familiar with, and only throwing in a few subverted angles and misdirections as the simmering thriller brings its myriad players into bloody conflict. It's neither epic in scale, nor groundbreaking in concept, but it is something a little different for Netflix, and it does a solid job with the material, maintaining interest and delivering decent story arcs.
Netflix has had a mixed bag of film output in 2018, with a whole bevvy of new original content landing just in these last couple of months, and some of the films - in particular The Cloverfield Paradox and Duncan Jones' Mute - having lukewarm receptions to say the least. There's still some considerable anticipation attached to the upcoming Annihilation, Alex Garland's follow up to Ex Machina, which is due next week, but smaller, low profile features like The Outsider are understandably likely to be buried in the meantime.
It's strange because it was originally supposed to be a Daniel Espinosa project with Michael Fassbender in the lead, then Takeshi Miike took over with Tom Hardy tipped for the role of the fish out of water US POW, which could have been an interesting combination, but it landed on the doorstep of a relatively new director in Zandvliet, who does a solid job with the material, and garners a reasonably respectable performance from Jared Leto (who has attracted a fair amount of animosity for his take on The Joker in Suicide Squad, and even his attempt at a Tyrell-replacement antagonist in Blade Runner 2049). Although hardly striking, the cinematography is still eminently stylish, with a slightly modern vibe to the score given the period setting. Perhaps most importantly, some strong editing leave this an efficient two hour gangster thriller that neither feels cumbersome nor disjointed.
A decent enough piece of weekend viewing that only further reminds us of just how much we're getting with Netflix
Perhaps the lack of backstory or set up leaves the characters ultimately underdeveloped, but that's almost par for the course in Yakuza crime dramas, with the focus on culture-driven conduct, interplay and rules being much more important than simple personal motivations. In this respect, The Outsider offers a nice look at Yakuza life. It's hardly what we might have gotten from someone like Miike, and is nowhere near the greats in the genre (Takeshi Kitano's latest Outrage trilogy, for example) but is infinitely more accessible, finding a relatively organic way of introducing us to this world through the eyes of Leto's gaijin (the Japanese literal translation of outsider or foreigner), and making him feel like a genuine player in this brotherhood, particularly when conflict arises. Sure it's a best-of-both-worlds effort, but even watered down it still offers something different for the streaming giant, and delivers unflinching violence, brothers-in-crime loyalty and betrayal, and interesting observations on cultural code of conduct.
As stated, it's nothing groundbreaking, and will likely be dismissed as too slight for some (not enough The Yakuza, not enough Black Rain, and, conversely, not enough Kitano) whilst perhaps being too left-field for others, but it's a decent enough piece of weekend home viewing that only further reminds us of just how much we're getting from our Netflix packages.
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