EAST END FILM FESTIVAL – THE OUTSIDER – Review ***

“Make them think you’re crazy… and they will underestimate you”. Those are the words of Nobu Su that start this documentary, directed by Tom Meadmore. If you never heard of Nobu Su, well, you’re not the only one – this eccentric Taiwanese ex-billionaire made his fortune in the obscure and not that glamorous shipping industry, and despite his outspoken dressing style he has been mostly tucked away from media attention.

From the get-go, we know something went terribly wrong for Nobu. He is expelled from a ship he claims to own, there’s clearly some family crisis going on, and he doesn’t seem to be doing that great, business wise. After a quick introduction to his humble early beginnings (his father shipped bananas to Japan, he was the only male son of the family) and how he managed to make a fortune (by reading the financial reports, flying over ports worldwide in his private jet to access the market and by building innovative ships that allowed to transport more and better), we are thrown into the 2008 financial crisis, a massive banking conspiracy, the suggestion that Nobu manipulated the market and, of course, an estranged father that lost sight of what was really important.

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The Outsider starts strong, with Nobu’s quirkiness and an excellent work of animated graphics pulling us in, but it loses its plot shortly after it tries to explain banking jargon, quickly switching between interviewees, and never deciding what is the main focus of the story. Is it the money lost? Nobu’s darker side? Him being a bad parent? Or just the banking mess? By trying to do too much, The Outsider doesn’t do enough, loses its power, and becomes a soundbite fest potpourri, where even the graphics start getting annoying, the song choices go cringe-worthy by the end credits, and we end up not caring about Nobu or his story anymore. Nothing is followed through in a satisfactory way – the Greek shipping bosses are vaguely mentioned to no conclusion, the family drama is given a day (the elder daughter’s graduation) of attention, the banking conspiracy lacks pathos, and even his own story – the self made man, the “street kid” that becomes a master of the game – feels more like banter than reality (after all, Nobu had access to high education and did not come from poverty).

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And yet… what The Outsider suggests is that there’s a story in Nobu, and despite failing to tell it in an emotional enough way, we are given the occasional glimpse here are there. Not on the clearly staged “observational” bits, but when the man himself lets a bit loose in front of the camera, his extravagance, contagious good humour (even in the most dire situations), and the suspicion that there is more to him than a little small fool that got lucky at betting against the market. Watchable, at points educational, but no oomph in this underwhelming character study.

The Outsider will be playing as part of the East End Film Festival. For more info and tickets, please check http://www.eastendfilmfestival.com

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.