Seeking to portray the journey of a man in search of salvation after spending half his life in prison for no crime, “Outside In” has a unique style of telling a story that may seem generic at first glance.
Subtlety is the word that best describes the Lynn Shelton (1965-2020)-directed drama that follows the life of Chris, interpreted with full dignity by Jay Duplass at his best. At age 38 and now free, the protagonist returns to his hometown, Granite Falls, after two decades in prison. In the opening sequence itself, as Chris savors french fries and gazes at the landscape through the car window, it is possible to sense hope and relief in his expression, as he reflects on the uncertain future that awaits him . This scene already tells the audience what to expect from “Outside In” and its unique perspective. As Chris begins to embrace his new reality, rediscovering life’s simple pleasures in freedom, the story also takes him back to his past, when he was an innocent young man before life’s adversities hit him.
The truth about the crime that sent Chris to prison is never fully revealed, but the script makes it clear that he is in fact innocent and just was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This theme is shared with “Monster” (2018), directed by Anthony Mandler, in which the central character is also involved in an armed robbery crime. Although it bears similarities, “Outside Inn” is set in a small town on the North East Coast of the United States, as opposed to the larger city of New York in “Monster”. Perhaps one day the reason behind these coincidences will be discovered, but unfortunately, director Lynn Shelton, who co-wrote the screenplay, passed away in early May 2020 at the age of 54 from acute myeloid leukemia.
As Chris tries to rebuild his life, the obstacles he faces take sinister turns. Everything is new to him, and his discomfort with the world around him is evident, which has changed and evolved during his time in captivity. He experiences simple difficulties with computer tasks, difficulty using the phone to send and receive messages, and faces financial challenges that force him to move temporarily into the home of his brother Ted, played by Ben Schwartz. forces him to stay, with whom he develops a growing and uncontrollable spirit. Of hatred Ted is the true perpetrator of a crime he committed 20 years earlier with the help of a mutual friend, and has met Chris only occasionally over the past two decades, being less neglectful than his mother, who never attends reception. Didn’t go to join or didn’t bother to come. Held to celebrate his release, but sends money and letters which Chris dismisses as unread. The only thing stopping Chris from consciously rebelling this time is Carol, his former high school English teacher, brilliantly played by Edie Falco. From that moment on, the film takes on depth thanks to Falco’s show-stealing charisma and talent, making Duplass’s journey all the more captivating, even as it’s limited theatrically. A relationship develops between the characters, even though Chris and Carol do not become a couple. Carol becomes the person who cares most for Chris, calling him weekly, sending him to lessons and carefully studying every detail of his case, which plays a key role in reducing his sentence. Shelton hints at a possible one-sided crush on Carol by Chris, who in turn may be confusing and mixing feelings of gratitude with idealized love. The film traces Carol’s personal challenges, including her failed marriage and her difficult relationship with her daughter Hildy, played gracefully by Caitlin Dever.
As the story progresses, the film’s cinematography, directed by Nathan M. Miller, takes center stage. The camera is always close to the scenery, making sure the viewer doesn’t miss a detail, Granite Falls captures the constantly charged atmosphere of a small and rainy town, where human interactions reflect the weather’s chronic bad mood .
The ending of “Outside In” reveals that Chris and Carol do not become a couple, despite the obvious sexual tension and affection they feel for each other. The film follows with the suggestion that life continues as usual, with the possibility that Chris will one day repay all the good that Carol, his former teacher and ideal ex-girlfriend, did for him. The film addresses the subject of love gone wrong, and highlights that love is not always simple and pure, and can also be ridiculous and perverse.
Direction: Lynn Shelton