Showtime’s “The Outsider,” a romance story entwined with a traditional Western theme, is not particularly inventive but presents quite an attractive picture thanks to director Randa Haines’ lingering landscapes and touching perfs by leads Tim Daly and Naomi Watts. And while its heavy emphasis on melodrama may lead viewers to mistake the cabler’s original for something on Lifetime or Oxygen, Daly and Watts manage to transcend the cliches that embody the Penelope Williamson book on which the movie is based.
Watts stars as Rebecca Yoder, a member of Amish-like religious group the Plain People. Her family fled oppression in Ohio for the wilds of 1886 Montana to carve out a life in solitude. But peace doesn’t last long when the Plain People arouse the ire of the exceedingly evil local cattle ranchers.
Angered over a land dispute, the ranchers kill Rebecca’s husband, Ben, and try to terrorize her into selling the farm. Noah Watts (Keith Carradine), friend and patriarch of the Plain People, asks Rebecca to marry him, but she knows she could never settle for a loveless marriage.
One winter day, a stranger staggers onto her property badly wounded. Bound by her beliefs to offer aid to all in need, Rebecca takes the stranger into her home and, with the help of Dr. Lucas Henry (David Carradine), nurses him back to health.
It’s obvious from the arsenal of weapons and numerous scars on Johnny Gault (Tim Daly) that this stranger has lead a rough life. Rebecca and Johnny are unsure of each other’s motives, but his long convalescence forces them to get to know one another.
The Plain People community objects to the outsider, but Rebecca and her 9-year-old son, Benjo (Thomas Curtis), form a strong attachment to Johnny, who despite hesitance becomes deeply involved in their lives. Under pressure from her family, Rebecca must chose between the life she has always known and a love that she has never experienced.
As Johnny, Daly offers up machismo with just the right touch of sensitivity, lending credence to his bad boy’s ultimate redemption. And Watts’ ethereal beauty speaks to the naturalness of her character, and the place and time of the story. Almost too pretty to be Plain, Rebecca radiates warmth and spirit.
Although predominately a love story, “The Outsider” is reminiscent of several films including “Witness” and “Shane” at best and any number of Steven Seagal films at worst. Underneath its Western exterior also lies an elaborate anti-gun, anti-violence morality play.
Haines infuses the pic with as much atmosphere as possible, lingering over beautiful vistas and solitary images. As the mood of the movie shifts, so do its colors; in the beginning, pic is awash in penitent shades of blue, but the palette softens throughout the film until it shines with brilliant hues of orange and yellow.
Production design by Grace Walker evokes a simple yet fulfilling life, while Anna Borghesi’s understated costumes authentically capture the time period and lifestyle choices of the characters.