The title character in the new Netflix Original thriller “The Outsider” is an ex-soldier named Nick Lowell who survived in a Japanese prison through the end of World War II, only to find himself indentured to a mobster who helped him. Nick’s introduction to the arcane codes of the yakuza coincide with an internecine gang war, in a complicated crime saga that’s more sedate than sensational.
“The Outsider” stars Jared Leto, which has raised some ire among film buffs tired of seeing American and British actors take the lead in movies set in Asia. Cultural concerns aside, Leto gives a quietly charismatic and grounded performance, playing a more conventional action hero for a change.
That said, director Martin Zandvliet and screenwriter Andrew Baldwin don’t do Leto any favors with a story that mostly skirts around Nick’s past — so much so that, aside from a few scenes, the character’s ethnicity makes him an “outsider” in only a generic sense. The raw feelings over America’s ongoing postwar occupation of Japan, for example, are touched on but not deeply explored.
Instead, although the film’s well-made — with snazzy period clothing and a vivid urban backdrop for the chases and fights — the plot’s a retread. From Nick’s forbidden romance with a yakuza colleague’s sister to the “never trust a crook” double-crosses, “The Outsider” is a slick copy of multiple, much-better films and TV series. It’s so well-polished it’s practically featureless.
Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also streaming on Netflix