The Outfit is a crime drama set in Chicago and the title is a double entendre as the Chicago organized crime syndicate is referred to as the Outfit. In case you’re wondering, this film is NOT a remake of the 1973 film starring Robert Duvall. This one is is set in mid 50s Chicago where Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) runs a tailor shop after having left London. I love the set up in the opening scene. It shows Leonard, who’s trained in London’s famous Saville Row, explain his craft as he masterfully measures and cuts fabric. Clothes sure make the man and Leonard knows exactly what goes into making a bespoke suit, that there are 4 fabrics and 38 pieces to create an outfit. He even tells us the difference between a tailor and a cutter, and he is the latter. There is something so mesmerizing about watching a maestro so highly skilled at his art and he is no doubt a perfectionist.
As his primary thing he sell are bespoke suits that are cut to measure, naturally only people with money can afford them and in a city run by gangsters, most of his clients are the Chicago crime family. “You can’t make something good unless you understand the customer” – that’s one of Leonard’s motto. And he is aware who his customers are. “If we only let angels be our customers, we won’t have no customers at all,” he said to his secretary Mabel (Zoey Deutch) whom they share a mutual respect, even care for one another like an uncle and niece. Mabel wants to travel the world like Leonard once did, and she doesn’t exactly want to learn the craft as Leonard wish she would. There’s a memorable scene where she carelessly folds each stack of silk handkerchief, much to Leonard chagrin. But instead of scolding her for not taking her job seriously, Leonard just fixes the fold the way he would like it to be.
His quiet night is suddenly interrupted when two of his clients burst into his office and one of them, Richie (Dylan O’Brien) is bleeding profusely. His partner Francis (Johnny Flynn) practically coerces Leonard to help seal the wound. Soon we learn they’ve been in a shootout involving a tape that could implicate them as well as Richie’s mob boss dad Roy (Simon Russell Beale). Apparently, The Outfit, a network of every big time crime gangs from coast to coast started by Al Capone in the 30s, has been sending Roy’s gang messages via Leonard’s tailor shop. Leonard has no choice but to help them out for fear of his own life, as things escalates out of control as the night wears on.
I say this with the highest compliment that The Outfit would easily work as well as a play. It’s set entirely indoors in the tailor shop within a single night, and only feature a handful of characters. Writer/director Graham Moore isn’t concerned with delivering big action set pieces like shootouts or car chases one would expect in a gangster movie. His ‘special effects’ are in the tight script and fine performances firing all cylinders, especially Rylance and Beale, a pair of acclaimed stage actors. There is such conviction in their delivery that’s far more potent than any loud, bombastic but empty action scenes.
Moore has created a gripping pressure-cooker gangster drama that’s also an astute character study. There’s such a zen-like calmness to Leonard, but also a sense of deep mystery about his past that’s slowly revealed as the film progresses. O’Brien and Flynn are quite good here as the two young gangsters who often underestimate Leonard, but he uses their perception of him to his advantage. They wear their roles nicely and their impetuous nature offer an interesting contrast to Leonard’s even-tempered manner. Deutch has a lovely screen presence and her role here makes me think she is ready for meatier roles. Nikki Amuka-Bird is also an actress I’d love to see more of, her brief appearance as an elegant female crime boss is a remarkably memorable one.
But the star of the show is no doubt Rylance, a criminally underrated actor who always understands his assignment. This role is tailor-made for him and Moore, who co-wrote the script with Johnathan McClain, cut the role to measure for Rylance. He’s played so many memorable supporting roles, so it’s good to see him in a leading role that makes the most of his talent.
While the tone is mostly serious, it’s not without a sense of humor. I love how Leonard despises blue jeans, the arch nemesis of bespoke tailoring that he deems worse than WWII. While a gangster may have a long standing love affair with his Tommy gun, for Leonard it’s his beloved shears which makes plenty of appearances from start to finish. If you’re expecting an action-packed whodunnit, this is not that movie for you. But lack of action does not mean lack of suspense, in fact there’s a tense atmosphere even in a quiet scene of two men talking.
I’m so impressed with Moore’s direction here and all the more impressive considering this is his directorial debut. He has won an Oscar in Best Adapted Screenplay for The Imitation Game, but he’s definitely has the chops as a director. As with a perfect bespoke suit without any rumpled fabric or creases, this film is a study in precision… it’s so well-crafted that not a single scene/dialog is wasted in its 1 hour 45 minute screen time. I hope The Outfit doesn’t get lost amongst other flashier films playing at the cinemas, as it definitely is one of the best films of the year.