It’s tough when actors you respect force you to say bad things about the movies they are in, but, alas, that’s the nature of the business. The Outsider is a new film that boasts a handful of respectable actors, among them James Caan, Jason Patric, and Craig Fairbrass, yet they’re given so painfully little in terms of character development and dialogue that most of their earnest work is wasted. Indeed, the final act of the film consists of a couple of scenes where the main characters just rattle off all of the particulars of the plot. This is entirely necessary, too, for the structure and composition of The Outsider is so poor that the film has to essentially walk the audience through the minutiae of what’s going on during its most crucial moments.
The movie starts off well enough, as the camera set-ups, moves, and action all seems entirely professional. A briskly paced film, it only takes about ten minutes to get the central thrust of The Outsider on the table, for it is about a young British woman’s murder in Los Angeles, and her Black Ops/Special Forces/English-as-fuck dad leaving his post in Afghanistan to look into her death. Craig Fairbrass plays the dad, Lex, and as mentioned earlier, he does a fine job with the little he’s given to work with. Yet the problems start early, like when Lex asks his C.O. for a little time off to sort out his dead daughter’s affairs.
This scene, like so many others to follow, wants to be tense and full of weight, yet it comes off as laughably stilted, forced, and disingenuous. Part of this is a product of the material, for the whole daddy-gone-looking-for-daughter-in-danger thing has been done to death, and The Outsider doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Indeed, scenes where Lex goes around questioning people, only to be rebuffed, only to then GET SERIOUS and start beating some answers out of people so as to move the lethargic plot forward gets old in no time flat. We’ve seen this countless times before, a-la Get Carter, The Limey, Death Wish, and Taken, and in each of those instances it was done with more creativity and unique flair than what’s on display here.
And again, considering the fact that the movie could have been using the first and second acts to develop a plot they ended up cramming down the audience’s throat during two or three scenes near the end feels like nothing short of a waste. And maybe that’s the worst thing at play here: the film’s seeming lack of faith in its audience. From the oppressive score, which is practically a mood-subtitle track, to the needlessly long exposition scenes, to the pedantic dialogue: all of it seems to assume that you’re not smart enough to keep up with things, and need to constantly be told where to look and how to feel.
Quality films and distinguished filmmakers develop their stories through nuanced character development and subtle yet skilled storytelling techniques that take an audience on a journey. The experience of watching The Outsider, on the other hand, feels like cinematic equivalent of being read an instruction manual. Again, kudos to Fairbrass, Patric, and Caan for giving it the old college try, yet this one never really got off the ground. And really, how could it?
Released this week, in February 2014, this movie’s believability index falls somewhere in the same realm as an old A-Team episode. On some level that makes this movie somewhat watchable in a meta, funny-because-it’s-bad way, yet it was undoubtedly not meant to be enjoyed in this manner. No, mired in a series of predictable plot and character components, and seemingly without any ambition to rise above the same tired territory this and so many other films have tread before, The Outsider flounders.