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Film Review: 'The Outfit' is a Crime Drama that Really Goes the Distance

When a movie never leaves the room, the production better have a strong enough story to compensate for the containment, and feature characters who can displace the lack of action through the sheer force of their performance. 'The Outfit' is one such movie.
Mark Rylance stars as "Leonard" in director Graham Moore’s THE OUTFIT, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Nick Wall / Focus Features.

Mark Rylance stars as "Leonard" in director Graham Moore’s THE OUTFIT, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Nick Wall / Focus Features.

Movies are meant to travel. Some go across oceans, others climb mountains and plenty more span galaxies to bring home a tale. But when a movie never leaves the room, the production better have a strong enough story to compensate for the containment, and feature characters who can displace the lack of action through the sheer force of their performance. The Outfit is one such movie.

The fact that the main character is a tailor, and his shop serves as the locale makes the Graham Moore film even more remarkable. On the other hand, the tailor’s involvement with the local crime syndicate certainly gives the drama some juice.

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Inspired by the first FBI bug that was planted in the shop of a tailor, Moore is following his Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in The Imitation Game with his first crack in the director’s chair. Leonard (Mark Rylance) is the genius this time and the enigma he must solve arises from the communication drop he provides for the neighborhood gangsters. The tailor (or cutter), left England during WWII because an unstoppable force threatened his business. “Bluejeans,” Rylance deadpans and completes the comedic misdirection like a master.

No stranger to the academy, the Best Supporting Actor in Bridge of Spies exudes all business, and his diligent attention to detail lets us know what the character's real proficiency is. As such, each carefully laid stitch feels as though the original blueprint took as much time to develop as the Brooklyn Bridge or the Invasion of Normandy.

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The precision of his place of business has also been meticulously arranged by Moore, while the Oscar Winner exhibits patience in his delivery that matches his professional approach in kind. In other words, Rylance assures that his character will never have to reapply his sheers to a relationship or a conversation because he carefully and thoughtfully chooses his words.

Even more impressive, the discourse roll off the character’s tongue as though he’s just as off the cuff as anyone else, and as we’ll see, the trust can’t help but build in any interaction.

At the same time, the entirety of Rylance’s presentation almost evokes jealousy. Who wouldn’t want his ability to naturally draw people in and have a professional passion that so nourishes the soul that it doesn’t matter what else is in our lives.

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Even so, there is someone in his life. That would be Leonard’s young shop assistant, Mable. Totally dialed in, the affection that Leonard derives as a fatherly surrogate makes loneliness and old age not seem so bad.

Played by Zoey Deutch (Zombieland: Double Tap, The Politician), she gladly reciprocates, and the matching vibe comes across in the snarky respect Deutch conveys in her portrayal. Furthermore, the connection doesn’t digress despite the way the duo diverges in their approach to life. Leonard is at home wherever he can get his hands on a pair of scissors, while her youthful restlessness yearns for a life far away from Chicago.

Unlike her boss, though, she’s ready to cut corners to achieve her aims, and getting involved with the son of the neighborhood’s underworld boss is a length Mable is willing to go. An easy mark, Richie (Dylan O’Brien) comes up a bit short as a gangster who sustains as the spoiled son of an accomplished father.

Johnny Flynn (left) stars as "Francis" and Mark Rylance (right) stars as "Leonard" in director Graham Moore’s THE OUTFIT, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Rob Youngson / Focus Features.

Johnny Flynn (left) stars as "Francis" and Mark Rylance (right) stars as "Leonard" in director Graham Moore’s THE OUTFIT, a Focus Features release. Courtesy of Rob Youngson / Focus Features.

As a result, he never really makes a move without Francis (Johnny Flynn), and the important family operative mostly resigns himself to being Richie’s babysitter/mentor. A portrayal by O’Brien and Flynn that doesn’t really try to be true to life like the Godfather or The Sopranos. The result: the bad guys feel more like 1950s movie gangsters instead of the real thing. In this, an important tone is set.

To a degree, the film is meant to be taken as a flight of fancy, and the directorial presentation helps make the story a believable fantasy. An effect that is reinforced by the low lighting throughout. Yes, the film is shot in color, but the Dick Pope cinematography makes The Outfit almost seem like a black and white film from the era.

So when things inevitably go awry, we are better positioned to accept that this simple cutter can give these underworld characters a run for their money. For Leonard’s purposes, there’s a mole, an incriminating recording that Richie and Francis are trying to get their hands on, and without a clean bill of health, the local gangsters won’t be able to join the Outfit. A nationwide crime organization that allows local syndicates to be part of a larger alliance.

The stakes are then raised by association. Mable is drawn into the perilous situation with her boss, and in keeping with his methodical acumen as a cutter, Leonard stitches over each pitfall with cool precision.

Gliding through the twists and turns, he’s almost like he’s a basketball point guard who has the game slow down for him while everyone else sees things in real time. Only, our cutter never steps on the court, and so good at the game, you’ll be amazed how this sedentary tale really goes the distance.


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