Netflix Now: The Outsider (2018) Reviewed

Does Jared Leto qualify as a bad ass Yakuza member? Patrick tells us. 

You’re really going to want to like The Outsider. It offers a look into organized crime in Japan in the post-war era, a topic rarely explored in Western cinema. It’s shot with care and an eye for beauty, offering several stunning vistas, and a few gorgeous, albeit safe shots with some seriously dramatic lighting. It even attempts to fulfill all your crime movie expectations – aging crime boss, mafia princess, a rival family attempting a coup on the streets, and yet, no matter how you try, you’ll probably find little to love about The Outsider.
Attempting to achieve its worldbuilding and exposition through visuals, The Outsider offers little in the way of exposition. A commendable effort, to be sure, but when the visuals fail to tell a compelling story with enough detail to be memorable, the effort feels wasted. One need look no further than the protagonist, Nick, played by a blank-faced Jared Leto. Nick gives us little insight into the experiences as a soldier or prisoner of war that drove him to be a steely-eyed killer, so it’s difficult to empathize with him as a character. At first, it’s refreshing that there are no cliched voiceovers telling us Nick’s dark and painful past, but as his character moves from scene to scene with virtually zero development, it goes from refreshing to simply uninteresting. 

Yes. Kill me before my hair leaves a slick on the ocean surface. 

The rest of the cast fares a bit better, Tadanobu Asano is likeable and potent as Kiyoshi, Nick’s cellmate and guide into the Japanese underworld. He’s still woefully underutilized and gives little to advance the practically nonexistent plot. Shioli Kutsuna is doe-eyed and gorgeous as Nick’s love interest, Miyu, but her contribution to the story is simply cliched and disappointing. The viewer is given zero reason to understand why the two are even attracted to one another in the first place – it’s a subplot that feels completely unearned. 

The one thing that The Outsider seems to get right might also be extremely divisive. The film paints a picture of the yakuza as a group of ruthless, but calm and measured criminals. Unlike the boisterous and unpredictable blowhards of Italian and Irish American mafiosos in the Hollywood pantheon, these street soldiers seem to have a code of honor and respect. 
Is this accurate? Will this drive Japanophiles to accuse the film of having a surface-level understanding of Japanese culture based on stereotypes? Most likely. I can’t say that I have the requisite knowledge level, nor the desire to find this complaint meaningfully offensive. Quite simply, The Outsider has far bigger problems than that.


-Patrick B. McDonald