The Outsider (2002) / Romance-Western
MPAA Rated: R for violence and sexual themes
Running Time: 118 min.
Cast: Naomi Watts, Timothy Daly, Thomas Curtis, John Noble, Jason Clarke, Keith Carradine, David Carradine
Director: Randa Haines
Screenplay: Jenny Wingfield
The setting is Montana in the old West, where a small Amish community has become the target of persecution at the hands of neighboring cattle ranchers, some of whom end up lynching one of them cruelly. The surviving widow (Watts, The Ring) and son are powerless to fight back, until one day she saves a dying drifter (Daly), nursing him back to health. The drifter ends up being a no-good murderous thug, but as payment for saving his life, he offers to take care of the menacing rancher for her, but she declines what would be an immoral act in her eyes. The Amish community disapprove of a strange outsider staying in the widow's house, and rightfully so, as feelings begin to develop between the two that makes her question whether it is right or wrong to live such a repressive life. Meanwhile, the ranchers want to do a little more killing of their own, especially the only real threat there is, the outsider.
The Western genre isn't exactly known for exploring the feminine side of things often, but in this film written and directed by women, adapted from a book written by a woman, a softer side is explored with a romance, but with wildly mixed results. The two main actors are surprisingly good in an unfamiliar storyline, with Tim Daly (of TV's "Wings", Basic) in particular totally transforming his normally affable personality into one that is initially quite menacing. The predictable softening of his steel exterior at the hands of Watts proves to be too soon to swallow, and the side story of a woman coming to grips between following her heart and staying on the path of righteousness gives the overall film a level of artifice and contrivance that makes for less interesting fare.
Unless you thoroughly enjoy the acting of Watts or Daly, The Outsider is nothing you haven't seen cycled through many times before in older and better Westerns (Angel and the Badman is comparable). Even the inclusion of the forbidden Amish love aspect has been done before, most notably in the Harrison Ford flick, Witness. As a Western that is more accessible to women, it offers some passable entertainment for the typical viewers of the Lifetime channel, but for those looking for more solid entertainment, the pickings are mighty slim.
©2004 Vince Leo