The Outsider (USA, 2019)
Timothy Woodward Jr.’s revenge story The Outsider is set in the Old West in a corrupt town run by Marshal Walker (Trace Adkins) and preyed upon by his son James (Kaiwi Lyman) and his stooges. James and his right-hand man Frank (Mitchell L. Johnson) harass Chinese railroad worker Jing Phang (Jon Foo) in the middle of town, then throw him in jail. Having taken a liking to Jing’s pregnant wife Li Phang (Nelli Tsay), James uses the ruse of helping Jing to lure her to an abandoned building in town where he commits rapes and murder.
Jing breaks out of the cell using his martial arts skills and finds Li’s body, but everyone flat-out ignores him. With nothing to live for, Jing goes looking for the name of the man who destroyed his family, killing three men in the process. Marshal Walker is now hoping to find Jing and end this feud with as little fuss as possible, while protecting his son.
Chris King (Sean Patrick Flannery) is a suicidal tracker forced into service by Walker’s men to find and kill Jing. Amongst the men assisting with the task is Carlos (Danny Trejo), who insinuates that Chris will also end up dead when they find their fugitive. Things don’t go well for the posse when it is Jing who finds them first and things swiftly move downhill for the Walker family.
As written by Sean Ryan The Outsider is pretty standard Western fare with the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad through a corrupt town in 1800’s America serving as its backdrop. The film starts off quickly, establishing Jing and Li’s relationship and Jing’s reason for revenge. Within the first ten minutes we learn the fate of the doomed immigrant couple, as well as how bad James Walker is and how indifferent his fellow townspeople are. Good Westerns have a nice mix of action and drama, though, and this is where The Outsider falls short. Viewers are thrown into the situation a little too quickly and it makes for a rather predictable story. There is also a major lull between any real action sequences. We see Jing use martial arts to kill a few men and get the information he needs in the local bar in the first act. This is enjoyably conveyed in flashback with the clearly anxious bartender telling the Marshal what happened. But then there is no real action until the last third of the film. We don’t get to see what happens to the posse sent out with Chris. We do see a bit more of the relationship between James and his father, though, and it has been a contentious one. Finally, the action picks up again, and there are a few twists that make an almost foreseeable ending interesting.
What is particularly good is the acting, especially Flannery as Chris King. The character actually has more depth and complexity than Jing and comes across as more empathetic. Jing’s character development was almost non-existent. We know that he loved his wife and unborn child, and then felt no more reason to live after what happened to them. Nothing else. However, Lyman is compelling as James. He really made you hate the character and want to see him get what’s coming to him. Lyman and Adkins share a very good dynamic as the troubled father and son, with the Marshal knowing James is a bad guy but wanting to protect him because of a promise he made to his wife.
Overall, The Outsider is a decent film that could have done a bit more with its story and added some substance to Jing’s character. It’s hardly one of the best Westerns I’ve seen, but not a bad one, either.