The Out

By Harry Brandrick | Drama
A recovering addict tries to care for his young daughter after being released from prison.

Liam is a 35-year-old recovering addict. He has also just been released from incarceration and is in the process of rebuilding his life. Part of that staying clean and out of trouble -- and looking after his young daughter for the first time since his release.

There is still a palpable love between parent and child, but also tentative uncertainty on Liam's part as he adjusts to being on the "outside" again. And then there is also the creep of Liam's old life, threatening to destabilize everything he's fighting to make solid again.

Written and directed by Harry Brandrick, this keenly observed short drama is a naturalistic, quietly intimate portrait of a man struggling with the shadows of addiction, and how it ripples into the most precious aspects of his life. There's a thoughtful yet unadorned look in the cinematography that gives an almost documentary-like feel as if watching a man's life unfurl in its quiet moments. But the camera often frames Liam through doors or windows or from above, situating Liam in a larger social context. Though no cameras are watching him, he is being monitored, something he is reminded of with the sensor on a bracelet around his ankle.

This quiet but persistent reminder of post-incarcerated life reminds Liam that he can't mess up. His life is simple: he has a curfew, and he tries to spend time with his daughter and care for her. The storytelling, too, is deceptively spare, tracking Liam's small yet important efforts to be a father and stay on the straight and narrow.

Actor Allen Mustafa truly occupies the role of Liam, playing him as a loving parent trying to do right by his daughter but is hunted by the consequences of his past choices, whether it's his regrets about the past or the anxieties about his future. His old life continues to pull at him, in the form of Marcus, an old friend who wants Liam to help him score. Liam refuses, but addiction has a way of overriding formidable obstacles to get what it wants -- and threatens to disrupt the most important part of his life.

Compelling and deeply empathetic, "The Out" is a compassionate look at the fallout of addiction in one man's life, even after his physical condition has been stabilized. The storytelling is measured, even calm in tenor, but it also captures the nuanced yet raw journey that recovering addicts face, and the ways they are "managed" that tell them they are criminals, not people in the throes of a pernicious disease. Though Liam is recovering and Marcus is still in the thick of addiction, they are still two poles of the same experience of addiction, and the film's deepest insight is showing how addiction is not just a physical condition of a body's need for a substance. It is also a social context, where drugs maladaptively medicate the pain of living in poverty or other forms of deep deprivation, and where people organize their lives and relationships around this. We can't just treat the addiction and leave it to recovering addicts to manage on their own the lives they've likely damaged in the past. They need support, understanding and empathy, during treatment and the fragile process of rebuilding their lives.

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