It’s nice to know that after you ruin the character of The Joker in Suicide Squad, you can only go up from there. (“You” being Jared Leto, as he certainly reads these reviews.) Instead of playing a literally insane person covered in makeup, tattoos, and tendencies toward abusive relationships, Leto stars as the main character of one of Netflix’s newest original properties, The Outsider.
The Outsider seems to be another one of Netflix’s attempts to appeal to both a domestic and foreign market. The movie takes place in Japan, and most of the characters, Leto aside, are Japanese. Japanese is also the primary language of the film. English is only spoken occasionally, when characters speak to Leto’s character Nick, or when Nick has to say a sentence longer than one or two words—and it’s not often that he does, but this will be addressed later.
The movie opens in Osaka, Japan during the 1950s. Nick is a prisoner. He bonds with another prisoner, Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano), and eventually assists him in his escape. When Nick is released, he is offered a job by Kiyoshi’s family—the yakuza. Nick works as an enforcer of sorts for the yakuza, although the reason as to why the yakuza, a organized crime syndicate, need any more enforcing is never really explained. The Outsider tries to brush this under the rug by claiming that Kiyoshi feels an obligation to Nick for helping him escape, but it’s very unsatisfying to accept this as enough for a crime syndicate to employ someone that it clearly doesn’t like for an extended period of time.
Regardless, Nick begins to rise through the ranks and prove himself to the crime boss, who eventually accepts him as an honorary son. This is not until after a gruesome and overindulgent scene in which Nick cuts off two of his own fingers with a kitchen knife in order to make up for the dishonor he has incurred on his boss. The Outsider seems to be commenting on Nick’s extreme tolerance for pain and for a “cool” scene in which he truly proves himself a member of the yakuza, instead of an “outsider,” as he was previously labeled. Instead, this scene reads as a gratuitous use of violence and exploitation of the film’s R rating. This is not to say that movies shouldn’t or can’t be violent, it is only that such violence should have a real purpose or meaning—or at least be a part of a better movie. Good examples of high-quality violent action movies include John Wick, John Wick: Chapter Two, The Raid, and The Raid 2.
Putting violence aside, however, leaves very little left in The Outsider. The story is sparse where it exists at all, and any attempts to humanize the characters feel false or unwarranted. At one point, Nick begins a relationship with Kiyoshi’s sister, Miyu (Shiori Kutsuna). Kiyoshi tells him to back off, he doesn’t, and then nothing of consequence actually occurs. Miyu’s character has no depth either. She merely exists as an object or device to further the plot and to “humanize” Nick (where she does not succeed).
Leto’s performance can hardly be called a performance at all. He is wooden and unmoved by almost everything that happens. He breaks out into destructive violence without real warning or prompt, and then recedes into utter apathy. He speaks perhaps 50 words in the entire movie—almost two hours in length. These types of performances can work, but not here. One point in Leto’s favor is that he does glide through the movie. Stylistically, his character works very well, but only after conceding all of the other faults of the movie. If everything wrong with The Outsider is put aside, Leto’s character cuts a striking figure in his yakuza suit, and he acts as an puzzling case of an unemotional stand-in for the audience members. But, putting all of the faults of the movie is nearly impossible, so this is really an exercise in futility.
The Outsider would be a fairly mindless period-crime movie that one might recommend putting on television while you did something else— like clean the house, for example. But the movie is probably 40 minutes too long to do this sort of job, and there isn’t enough dialogue to follow simply by ear. To understand what little happens in the movie, one must watch continuously. But this movie is terrible, so don’t do that either.
Featured Image by Netflix