In the few days following his release from prison, the man, approaching the middle of his life, must contend with a particularly hard truth: He is now stuck in the emotional space he inhabited before the prime of his life was interrupted by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Chris (Jay Duplass) did not commit the crime, whose details are unclear but also unimportant (It seems to have been a drug deal gone wrong, and one character clarifies that Chris was unaware of a gun being present during that deal), for which he was imprisoned. That is what hurts the most, and the process of assimilating to a world that has moved forward in the last two decades is just a series of situations that rub salt in that wound.
Outside In is an observant drama that allows us entry into this character's perspective. He is resentful of those who allowed him to take the blame. Awkwardly, this appears to include his brother Ted (Ben Schwartz), who picks him up from the gate outside the prison. One would be hard-pressed to cut the obvious tension even with a knife, and the parade of faces at the party welcoming him back home doesn't help ("I don't even recognize half of you," he quips, except it's not really a joke). He does have someone to thank directly for his release, though.
Carol (Edie Falco), his high-school English teacher, worked tirelessly to bring his wrongful imprisonment to an end. She worked so tirelessly to this end, in fact, that she receives a job offer to do the same for another person who was wrongfully convicted. She enjoys teaching well enough, but it's kind of a dead-end job with no new prospects. Chris' reentry into her life is the first time she has felt alive, and the prospect of a new career, even as her husband (played by Charles Leggett) approaches and anticipates a quiet retirement, is too exciting to pass up.
The eventual relationship that blossoms becomes physical, but the romantic nature of it really isn't the point of the screenplay by Duplass and director Lynn Shelton. Its main focus seems to be the affair's spider-web effect throughout this small community of people, particularly upon Carol's daughter Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever), who has grown up hearing about the legend of Chris' arrest and the details that made him innocent. Her disaffected home life leads her to spend all her time in an abandoned home, decorating it with fabric and otherwise just staying away from the sparring partners who are her parents.
Chris and Hildy also spark a curious friendship that, in the wrong hands, could have come across as more than a bit off-kilter, but it is a testament to Duplass (who, as an actor, is quite good as Chris, imbuing him with a deep sadness about the life he can no longer live) and Shelton that their film is not about a plot, so to speak. Outside In is a quiet film, small in scope and modest in aspirations, about how thoroughly the past trickles into the present. Through its carefully modulated performances (especially from Falco) and a nuanced study of its characters and this setting, it's a pretty good one, too.
Jay Duplass (Chris), Edie Falco (Carol), Kaityln Dever (Hildy), Ben Schwartz (Ted), Charles Leggett (Tom), Aaron Blakely (Shane).
Directed by Lynn Shelton and written by Shelton and Jay Duplass.
No MPAA rating.
Released in select cities on March 30, 2018.