One day out at a bar and Tank is out with his lady friends. But when another man named Adam decides to try to reignite a romantic spark with one of them, the two tough guys decide to settle their differences with fisticuffs.
Looking for a place to fight other than the bar, the two decide to try to find a place where they can brawl. But for one reason or another, each site isn’t quite right — sending both Tank and Adam on a bit of an odyssey and an unexpected adventure.
Writer-director Austin Davison’s short comedy has a sense of humor as bone-dry as its Texas setting, combining the ironic and laconic with aplomb in both its storytelling and its craftsmanship and creating a strangely hypnotic meditation on manliness and violence.
The film shot initially in a very straightforward way, almost like a drama, with a certain moody darkness and tension in the visuals and pacing. But as the story unfurls — and Tank tries out one spot after another for their fight — its sense of humor becomes apparent, based less on jokes or gags than in tone.
Its unique tenor is created by a combination of minimalism and elongation, paring down its dialogue to the barest minimum and keeping the editing elegantly economical. The writing and story are willing to draw out the admittedly narrow central conceit, allowing its characters to drift through vistas and landscapes and holding its shots just a beat longer and wider than typical to allow characters and viewers to contemplate the world and actions happening.
As the central joke is stretched to its limits, both Tank and Adam find maintaining the heated anger that led to their conflict in the first place near impossible. Slackening dramatic tension would be a risk for a different film, but instead, it’s replaced here by an idiosyncratic humanness that plays as both ironic and yet sweetly real.
These tough guys — played both with restrained commitment and self-awareness by actors Corey Oldham and Zack Scott — are really just people, with hopes, dreams and vulnerabilities. Watching Tank and Adam’s relationship arc from adversary to friend as they drift from place to place is both a witty statement about traditions of cinematic violence and oddly emotionally satisfying as well.
The dramatic demands of the typical Western-inspired duel narrative — and perhaps traditional masculinity — don’t give guys like Tank and Adam much room to be anything but tough. But the central idea of “Talk Outside” — which won a Grand Jury award at SXSW — allows them to explore, with both irony and tenderness, dimensions of themselves they likely don’t have much space for in their everyday lives. Their journey in the short ends in a gentle, resonant way, but viewers might actually suspect that their odyssey is actually just beginning.