In “Outside In,” an Ex-Con Falls for the Teacher Who Helped Free Him

Director Lynn Shelton’s latest is atmospheric and well-acted


“Mortals are flawed. We are all of us cracked vessels,” says Carol (Edie Falco), a high school teacher, as she presents a lesson on mythology to her class. It’s an obvious statement of the themes guiding Outside In, a quiet tale of an ex-convict, Chris (Jay Duplass), navigating life after serving twenty years for a crime he didn’t commit. Chris is flawed (though not as much as the prosecutors insisted), and so is Carol, who tirelessly advocated for his early parole and is now dealing with conflicting emotions: Chris is in love with Carol, and much of the drama comes from the tension of forbidden romance. The drama of Outside In is largely underplayed. It’s a tale of people seeking simple lives on their own terms, and while it may be withholding, its small scale seems a statement on just how many worthy stories are kept behind bars.

Director Lynn Shelton presents her leads with uneasy intimacy rather than any kind of idealization, making what could easily have been a treacly narrative of a fallen man saved by a generous woman become something thornier. Late in the film, they consummate the relationship with a night at a motel, and Shelton shoots the proceedings in uncomfortable close-up. Still, Carol’s relationship with her husband is the bland, void-of-connection kind that’s been portrayed in too many films — it’s no wonder she’d find Chris compelling. Shelton captures the small-town Pacific Northwest setting effectively, with shots of dreary but cozy storefronts and trees. The quiet, dark tableaux fit the subject matter well, and Falco is reliably strong as a woman in the throes of a moral dilemma.

Outside In
Directed by Lynn Shelton
The Orchard
Opens March 30, Quad Cinema


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