The Outfit Isn't Flashy, but Well-Plotted Enough to Keep You Guessing

click to enlarge Dylan O'Brien and Zoey Deutch star in director Graham Moore's The Outfit. - VIA FOCUS FEATURES
Dylan O'Brien and Zoey Deutch star in director Graham Moore's The Outfit.

An immigrant British tailor Leonard (Mark Rylance) plies his trade quietly out of a shop in a rough Chicago neighborhood. The kind of man who tends to fade into the woodwork, Leonard is intent enough on self-preservation to ignore the gangsters who use his back room as an unofficial office, dropping mysterious packages into a wooden box and occasionally rewarding him with a bespoke suit commission.

All the while, Leonard sits cutting and sewing. The other key player in this insular thriller is Leonard's secretary Mable (Zoey Deutch), a local girl who pines to escape her working class neighborhood and keeps a collection of snow globes of far away places to temporarily appease her dreamy wanderlust.

With shades of tightly calibrated old Hollywood thrillers like The Petrified Forest and a touch of David Mamet's theatrical mano a mano banter and intrigue, The Outfit refers to both the suits the meticulous tailor fusses over, and the criminal network that rules '50s-era Chicago. Like a Mamet production, events unfold in claustrophobic fashion in the tailor's shop, done up in shades of amber and brown, compressing the screenplay's tension between its cramped walls.

To that mix, in his directorial debut, Graham Moore adds a Shakespeare-worthy rivalry between two "brothers" vying for a crime boss's approval, as well as a series of double-crosses. Gangster Roy's (Simon Russell Beale) son by blood is the fumbling Richie (Dylan O'Brien), but it's ice cold killer Francis (Johnny Flynn) who's the apple of Roy's eye.

There's also a rat in the mix, someone among the players selling their secrets to the feds. When the frenemy gangsters Richie and Francis hole up one night at Leonard's shop after a gun battle, the seemingly passive tailor reveals more than Savile Row silk lining up his sleeve.

There's nothing too flashy in The Outfit, whose story we have seen some variation on before. But it's well-plotted enough with some quick-paced intrigue to keep audiences guessing. The Outfit has an old-fashioned feel, like a solidly built car that, despite racking up the miles, is still a well-constructed machine that won't hit top speeds but can keep pace.

Moore adapted and won an Oscar for his screenplay of Andrew Hodges' book The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as a brilliant WWII code breaker. On the evidence of that script and The Outfit, which he co-wrote with Johnathan McClain, Moore seems to specialize in nerd-centric plotlines where underdogs display hidden reserves of gumption.

I'll admit to never thinking very long and hard about Mark Rylance, the kind of serviceable thespian with a pedigree in British theater whose pleasant ordinariness hasn't exactly dazzled. Even despite those expressive caterpillar eyebrows and charmingly mild manner, Rylance tends to blend into the scenery for me, a bit player in my film hippocampus.

But I'm a Rylance convert on the evidence of The Outfit, where he inspires curiosity from the film's beginning as Leonard, a Swiss clock of a man finely calibrated to the tailoring task at hand, until he transforms into something utterly unexpected, handling that dramatic shift with aplomb. Rylance plays the mild-mannered tailor with utter conviction. Like the equally fastidious cutter played by Daniel Day-Lewis in that other thread opera The Phantom Thread, it's largely Rylance who carries the plot on charisma and an onion-peel performance that reveals its layers as The Outfit unfolds. 

About The Author

Felicia Feaster

Felicia Feaster is a managing editor at HGTV and an award-winning art, lifestyle and film writer whose work has also appeared in the Economist, Elle, New York Press, Playboy, Travel + Leisure, Art in America and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where she has served as the art critic for the past nine years. She...
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