The Outsider review: Netflix’s dull, cookie cutter Yakuza film

It’s an affectionate love letter to yakuza films, but The Outsider is a dull, cookie cutter movie that largely fails to deliver. Having Jared Leto in the lead isn’t as bad as it may sound, despite him having the appearance of a thin model rather than a grizzled mob enforcer. Rather, the main problem with this stylised, violent tale of organised crime in post-WWII Japan is that it’s something we’ve seen done better, countless times before.

The obligatory gang turf war doesn’t kick off until an hour and a half in. Before it does, there’s a finger cutting scene, sumo wrestling, a full back tattoo procedure, a sake ceremony, a katana being ritualistically given to someone… all the boxes get ticked. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and outsider filmmakers paying homage to yakuza movies should probably include it all. But it shouldn’t feel like they’re dutifully working their way down a list, and that’s exactly what is going on here.

When the third act finally kicks in and the film shifts up a few gears, it also becomes dramatically nonsensical. What should be the most exciting moments are instead head scratchers, as everyone suddenly behaves in a distractingly absurd manner. There’s also a fairly gross white saviour / Last Samurai element to the climax that probably would’ve been more acceptable a few decades ago.

Still, The Outsider is not a terrible film. There is some sweet-as violence, it’s all shot immaculately and if you have a 4K TV, Netflix is serving it up in glorious ultra-high-definition. It seems like ages since we’ve had a mainstream yakuza movie, too, and this will at least scratch that itch. It’s a real shame it does so in such an underwhelming way. It’s good for having on while you’re cooking dinner or something around the house, as not giving it all of your attention should lessen the frustration.

Watch ‘The Outsider’ on Netflix