The Outside Man


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The Outside Man is kind of a French Existentialist spin on the international intrigue thrillers which were so popular in the 60s and 70s, in the wake of Bondmania. The action takes place in Los Angeles, is almost completely in English, and features a cast of familiar American faces, but the director and screenwriters are French, and the film stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as a ruthless assassin who flies in from Europe to assassinate a crime boss living in the lap of L.A. luxury. That's not the essence of the movie, however. In fact, there's no tension or gravitas associated with that assassination because J-LT succeeds rather too easily, and because we just don't have any reason to regret the death of anyone without a back story, let alone a violent criminal.

The real heart of the movie lies in the assassin's attempt to get back to his home base. When he returns to his hotel from his mission at the crime boss's estate, he finds that someone else has impersonated him long enough to check him out of the hotel and steal his remaining possessions, including his passport. The assassin is, in essence, stranded in Los Angeles, and soon discovers that he himself is being stalked by another killer (Roy Scheider), one whose motivations are unknown. He's not sure whom to call for assistance, because it is possible that his own employers are the ones who hired the other killer to dispose of him. Or not. He must therefore find a way to get a new passport and get on a plane back to Europe while making his way through L.A. beneath the radar of his stalker.

The film's most effective element is the cat-and-mouse chase between Roy Scheider and Trintignant, which occasionally produces the same kind of tension generated by the one-on-one pursuit in No Country for Old Men. But there's a key difference between the two pursuits. In No Country for Old Men, we actually root for the mouse. He's just a regular guy being pursued by a seemingly unstoppable sociopath, so his fear and tension become our own in the best part of the film. In contrast, the heart of The Outside Man consists of two cold-blooded killers wearing expensive suits while trying to kill one another, so it is difficult to care what happens to either of them. We may enjoy their chess game from time to time, but we are not heavily invested in the outcome.

In the case of both films, the principal failing is that the end of that chase is not the end of the film, which makes everything after it anticlimactic. No Country for Old Men drifted away from taut thrills into philosophical rumination, by shifting the focus to a third character (the sheriff following both the cat and the mouse). The Outside Man shifted directions just as dramatically, but took a completely different turn.  The film climaxes with a mass gunfight at the funeral of the slain crime boss, all punctuated with a strong undercurrent of ludicrous visuals and dialogue, as if the film's final reel had been lifted from a Theatre of the Absurd play by Ionesco.

Ah, the French. What would we do without them?

Although The Outside Man has some good moments, it also includes some embarrassingly laughable scenes. The legal authorities in the film are universally inept and inconsequential throughout the film, almost to the point where the L.A. police look like the Keystone Kops, while the two assassins are discharging serious amounts of firepower in the city. Overall, The Outside Man is not especially worth your time based on its merit alone. On the other hand, baby boomers may find this film enjoyable because of the way it fills the minimum daily requirement for 1970s nostalgia. In addition to Roy Scheider as the mysterious assassin, the cast features Ann-Margret, Angie Dickinson, Alex Rocco, Talia Shire, John Hillerman, and Georgette from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. That cast is not exactly the Royal Shakespeare Company, but it does generate the sort of comfortable familiarity one feels at a family reunion. Other points of interest include a performance from Jackie Earle Haley as a child actor, and an often jarring musical score from Michel Legrand.

There is no Region 1 DVD available at the time of this review's creation.







There are no major graded reviews online.





6.5 IMDB summary (of 10)







Although there is no nudity from the principals, there is plenty of nudity provided by completely naked strippers who form a backdrop for a conversation. As I understand it, there were two versions of this film, and the American theatrical version was heavily edited. The French DVD has been taken from the full 35MM frame of the uncut version of the film, so we can even see what was below and above the widescreen projection. The women are anonymous, but it's all still pretty entertaining.



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is only sporadically entertaining, but highly nostalgic.