By Neil Runge | Staff Writer
In Martin Pieter Zandvliet’s newest movie, The Outsider, Jared Leto plays Nick Lowell, an American prisoner of war in 1950s Japan. After meeting a gang member during his time in jail, Lowell trades his freedom to join the yakuza.
Even with a basic plot, and sparse dialogue, this movie does not know what to do with itself. The story is bland, and the characters, with only bare hints of backstories, feel like they could have easily been interchanged with each other. The female characters serve as mere plot devices, and the other Japanese characters seem as if they’re just pawns in Nick’s story as a white man in a foreign country.
Additionally, when women are shown, they’re heavily sexualized. There are numerous scenes where silent women dance naked or get shoved around. The love interest of this film is nearly assaulted, pregnant and ordered around for her supposed safety.
Before I went into this film, I was prepared for a mindless action movie that almost anyone could get lost in. However, I was mistaken. Where The Outsider falters is when it tries to be anything more than just an action film. It attempts to be a mindful movie about post-war Japan and falls short. When a romantic subplot is brought up (almost out of nowhere), it gets pushed aside in favor of gore, violence and, unfortunately, Nick’s story.
This piece of media doesn’t follow through with any of the complicated subplots that it starts. This motion picture felt crowded and yet still lacking so much. The main plot is just barely resolved when Nick becomes another example of the white savior trope. Nick gets thrown into Japanese culture, and by the end of the movie, he is the leader of his gang; he is the “best” of a environment that he barely knew at the start.
On top of a lifeless story and one-dimensional characters, there are historical inaccuracies as well. With a bit of research, it’s easy to know that the yakuza rarely ever trust Americans. In The Outsider, rival yakuza families both have members that are Americans. Now, this doesn’t ruin the movie, but it certainly doesn’t help when stacked on top of the other racial issues this feature presents.
Admittedly, there were a few things about this showing that I enjoyed. The Japanese cast surrounding Jared Leto are astounding. They played the characters amazingly, and their efforts made up for Leto’s subpar performance. The film score tried to help the story along when the narrative was lacking, and at times, it succeeded. Also, the setting was interesting (at least when the viewer got to see it).
All in all, The Outsider was awful. The cast of characters and story were devoid of any real substance. I felt as if I was only getting enough information to move along Nick’s narrative. This dedication to one man’s story leaves the audience wanting more from an interesting and well-acted cast.
If you’re interested in the topic of the yakuza or 1950s Japan, then look elsewhere. These works will give a more accurate and certainly more in depth account of that time period. On the other hand, if you really love Jared Leto and have the desire to look at his face for about two hours, this movie is just the thing for you.