(CLICK HERE for my full review in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)
“The Outfit” brandishes a double-edged title with the most obvious reference being to a suit of clothes. But it’s also a reference to a mob network from the Al Capone era, connecting gangs from around the country. It’s a coveted yet mysterious fraternity that many crime families aspire to be a part of. First time director Graham Moore uses the title’s dual meanings in a number of entertaining ways as his gangster chamber piece moves from slight simmer to a violent boil.
Who better to play a mild-mannered and self-effacing English tailor than the gentle and affable Mark Rylance? His character, Leonard Burling, learned his craft on central London’s famed Savile Row. But after a devastating personal tragedy he came to Gangland Chicago with nothing but his beloved sheers. Now he quietly runs his shop, making suits for gentlemen and unsavory types alike. “If we only allowed angels to be customers soon we’d have no customers at all,” he rationalizes to his receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch), a dreamer with hopes of leaving Chicago behind and traveling the world.
But outside a neighborhood gang war is steadily intensifying. Throughout the day a number of serious looking men in well-tailored suits and fedoras walk into Leonard’s shop. Without uttering a word they head to the back room, drop small packages into a lockbox mounted on the wall, and are quickly on their way. At the end of the day, Richie Boyle (Dylan O’Brien), the hot-headed son of a local mob boss Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale), enters the shop with his right-hand heavy Francis (Johnny Flynn) to collect the packages. Meanwhile the unassuming Leonard goes about his business, never asking questions and keeping his nose clean.
But late one night, the turf war spills into Leonard’s world after a gut-shot Richie and a gun-waving Francis burst into his shop following a run-in with the rival LaFontaine gang. It would be a disservice to reveal much more, but lets just say the rest of the story uncoils over the course of one long night as Leonard tries to outwit all the various underworld players who factor into the film’s mazelike story. Along the way we learn there’s a rat in the Boyle family’s ranks. There’s also a tape containing damning information that could take the Boyles down if it falls into the wrong hands. And what of the Outfit? How do they fit into all of this?
There are several touches Moore brings that can make his film quite attractive. For example, there’s an exquisite early montage showing Leonard crafting a suit from scratch. It’s well edited, well shot, and accompanied by a well-oiled voice-over from Rylance. There’s also the way two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat’s score pulls us into the period during some scenes while effectively ramping up the tension in others.
Yet even with top-notch production design from veteran Gemma Jackson and great interior work from DP Dick Pope, “The Outfit” is far more theatrical than cinematic. In fact, throw in a printed program and an intermission and you would swear you were watching a stage play. That’s not a bad thing especially when the knotty story really kicks into gear. But there are moments when the staginess sticks out and certain limitations become more apparent. Still, a good script can overcome such constraints, and that’s mostly the case here.
But much of the movie’s success rides on the back of the poker-faced Rylance. His character is a man of few words, but the actor and the screenplay (written by Moore and Johnathan McClain) deftly keeps us fixated on everything he says. We learn there’s more to Leonard than meets the eye, but Rylance never tips his hand. I also have to give props to Nikki Amuka-Bird who has a small but riveting role as Violet, the boss of the LaFontaine gang. She has charisma to spare, and I could watch an entire movie dedicated just to her.
“The Outfit” may be a movie with noticeable limitations, but it mostly overcomes them and in many ways utilizes them to the benefit of its story. Wily first-time director Graham Moore weaves a nostalgic and gnarly web with enough twists and turns to keep his audience engaged. And it helps to have a seasoned and steady actor like Rylance who always seems perfectly in tune with the characters he plays. Here he’s a good anchor and is handed a role custom fit for his strengths. “The Outfit” hits theaters today (March 16th).
Looks to be one to see. I like the premise and Johnny Flynn always captures my attention.
To be honest I was surprised by this one. Really like the premise also, but it turns out to be a little different than I expected.
Keith, if you are looking for a good movie on netflix, I watched, “Black Crabs” last night. Noomi Rapace stars.
Oh yes. Working on a review for it now. I previewed it a couple weeks back.
Oh cool. I didn’t see it in your archive so that must mean you don’t put previews in there. Did you like it as much as I did?
I’ll check it out whenever it’s on TV.
Good. Definitely worth it. It has hit theaters but it looks like it may be a more limited release.
I’ll give this a go when it streams, Mr.Rylance always worth a watch.
He really is. He fits this role soooo well.
Watched this one last night and was very impressed by it. Wasn’t expecting the last bits at all. Phenomenal that this is a first time movie for the director. I agree about the montage and about the soundtrack — both excellent!
It was a treat. So much tension in such a small setting. Solid performances too, especially from Rylance. He never disappoints.
Keith do you have some Rylance movies to recommend? Always on the lookout for good movies and I was impressed with him in this one.
He has one coming out in a few days called “The Phantom of the Open” (it’s really good). As past movies, check him out in “Bridge of Spies”, “Dunkirk”, and “Waiting for the Barbarians”. He’s excellent in each.
OK, thanks much, Keith!
Sure thing. Tell me what you think of them (if you get the chance to see them).