Netflix’s The Outsider Takes You Into The Underworld of Japan

by Ben Martin

Call me a crotchety old man, but I haven’t quite been able to wrap my head around the straight-to-Netflix movie releases, for the most part. Yes, I know the company has done the same thing with their original TV programs; but that didn’t phase me. I think that’s because TV distribution has been a wide and varied game since HBO began its original series in the 90s.
Thus, seeing Netflix do the same with TV shows wasn’t a drastic transition for me. However, I can’t say the same with the films the company distributes. As with other companies of their ilk, such as the aforementioned HBO, Netflix Original Movies just lack a certain luster. Unlike theatrically released pictures, there’s no built-in anticipation; thanks to a deluge of marketing. Thus, many of these Netflix films slip by me for the most part. I’m sorry to say that with the exception of last year’s Girlfriend’s Day, and the film in review, I’ve yet to see any of the other streaming platform’s self-distributed movies. This isn’t due to me feeling these pictures are inferior, I just don’t think I’ve managed to make the transition yet.

Despite my difficulty with the release model, Netflix’s new film, The Outsider caught my eye. Oddly enough, this movie was conceived out of an idea had by John Linson, the president of original programming at the cable network FX. The Outsider follows a prisoner of war during World War II named Nick Lowell (Jared Leto). Upon the war’s end, Nick is released from the Japanese prison in which he has spent the past several years. Instead of going back to The States, Nick decides to make a new life for himself in the country in which he was formerly imprisoned. Under the guidance of high-ranking Yakuza member, Kiyoshi (Tadanobu Asano), Nick begins to make his bones as an aspiring Yakuza member. While doing so, he also falls for Kiyoshi’s sister, Miyu (Shioli Kutsuna). Such an unsanctioned love affair, along with an escalating gang war among various factions of Japanese organized crime, may give Nick more than he bargained for.

As a fan of crime dramas, particularly those centered around major criminal organizations, I was interested to see this picture. Having not seen many narrative films involving the Yakuza, I was very intrigued about what The Outsider would deliver. Upon watching the film, what I received was a well-crafted and perfectly watchable piece of genre fare. Director Martin Zandvilet (Land of Mine) creates a darkly beautiful and atmospheric piece of cinema. Despite not having the traditional budget of a WWII era period piece, the film’s setting and its atmosphere are tangible. Such is bolstered by the fact that every member of the cast fit their respective characters like a glove; notably the film’s star. While I usually find Jared Leto (Suicide Squad, Blade Runner 2049) to be an overrated and somewhat flat actor, I feel he was perfect as the titular Outsider. The character of Nick Lowell, like the actor who portrays him, is also a bit flat. A man whose primary focus is his budding criminal career, which I would imagine accounts for the lack of charisma.

While The Outsider excels in atmosphere, it lacks in surprise. This movie’s story plays out exactly as you would expect. No surprises or twists, just a narrative, playing by its genre’s rulebook. Here in lies the film’s sole problem. Quite frankly, you’ve seen it all before. A stranger in a strange land decides to become a crime man. In the end, I was glad I watched The Outsider. However, it reeked of a movie that would have worked better as an ongoing TV series or at least a limited one. My experiencing such a sentiment is appropriate considering the flick’s origins. Despite its predictable nature; if you’re a crime drama buff or want to watch a well-made movie, I would recommend taking in The Outsider once.


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