Screw critics. Your weekly Netflix Pick is The Outsider. Jared Leto is a phenomenal actor who is always intense. Another in a massive list of Netflix originals coming out this year. The Outsider is a unique movie with some brutality and a pretty compelling story.
Post World War II Japan was not the most welcoming place for Americans. Nick Lowell (Jared Leto) is AWOL from his unit. He lands himself in a brutal Japanese prison where he does his best to go unnoticed. Stepping into a situation Lowell believes he’s doing the right thing. The guards and inmates alike turn on Lowell for interfering. His actions do grab the attentions of Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano).
Kiyoshi is Yakuza. He promises Lowell will be taken care of justly if he aids Kiyoshi in a risky escape from prison. Lowell proves himself capable and Kiyoshi keeps him around for a while. Once again having a hard time fitting in, Lowell doesn’t let anything get him down. He toes the line and does what he has to do. Often times his actions are extreme but always in the Yakuza’s best interest. After proving himself the Yakuza welcome Lowell into ‘the family’. Lowell risks everything by falling in love with Kioshi’s sister, Miyu (Shioli Kutsuna).
The critical response needs to be addressed. Personal preference will always come into play with films. Actors make choices that don’t work for everyone. To deny Leto’s intensity and dedication at this stage in his career is sheer ignorance. His on screen presence cannot be ignored.
White washing is a term that shows up online a lot lately. Sometimes, yes, white washing is an issue. The Outsider isn’t guilty of this. The story and the time line both service a white American actor in the role. No, it isn’t the only option for the character but Leto was a great choice for the role. I don’t want this to be twisted into some nonsense about prejudice or bias. My point is that the choice was appropriate for the role.
Now with that out of the way we can get into the movie.
The Outsider is a slow burn. It takes its time getting to where it’s going but never comes across as boring. The plot is a bit predictable given the synopsis and title but that doesn’t mean the audience can’t enjoy the ride. Leto’s character spends large portions of the movie being a presence. His dialogue is limited given the language barrier but he comes across as a man of few words anyway. When it is time to act Lowell explodes into action and is brutally efficient.
Leto is the star of the movie but Tadanobu Asano is a great co-lead. The actor’s performance is subtle, quiet, and subdued. He doesn’t have the same magnetism as Leto’s character. His performance is believable nonetheless. In fact the whole supporting Japanese cast are believable in their performances. If their work doesn’t tell you, a bit of research shows these guys are industry pros. Even if they aren’t household names to American audiences.
Keep an eye out for Shioli Kutsuna. She is adorable and charming in this movie. Miyu has the biggest emotional turn in the movie and really delivers. She is also slated to be in the upcoming Deadpool sequel, so we have that to look forward to.
The Outsider is mostly subtitled with Japanese language being spoken. This adds authenticity to the project but also helps the audience get in the headspace of Lowell. A man in a country not his own, not understanding the words being said. The lack of language doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand his situation.
Setting a movie in post WWII Japan without the war being the center of attention was an interesting take as well. While we don’t get to see large aspects of Japanese life at this time the glimpses we get are authentic.
The camera work is clean. Tripods and dollys make the shots steady and strong. The cinematography is right in line with Leto’s portrayal of Lowell. The whole thing has a drab feel to it. Not the washed out sepia toned filter that plagues a lot of World War II movies. The scenes are low lit. The colors are washy gray and greens. I’m not sure why movies set in certain time periods take this approach in our world of High Definition everything. It’s not as if people saw less colors or less lights eighty years ago.
The style and the cars are incredibly cool. Again, understated. The Japanese Mafia doesn’t seem nearly as flashy as the American Italian mob (according solely to movies of course). A lot of the movie feels timeless. The lack of cell phones aside the story feels like one that could take place at anytime.
While not a perfect movie The Outsider delivers a unique story. The actors are captivating and do a good job selling characters that are a bit two dimensional. The movie is well shot even if the video quality is a bit drab.