The Outfit marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Graham Moore, best known for his Academy Award-winning script for The Imitation Game. As someone who has major issues with that film and its depiction of Alan Turing, I was unsure how The Outfit would turn out. But Graham shows real promise as a director, creating intrigue and atmosphere effectively. This stylish crime thriller is set in Chicago in 1956 and takes place almost entirely over the course of one evening.
With a screenplay from Moore and Jonathan McClain, the film centers around an English tailor named Leonard (Mark Rylance) whose main clients are a family of gangsters. It seems like everyone has a secret. The opening segment – one of the highlights of the film – features narration of him eloquently talking about the importance of clothing as he works in his shop.
Leonard has a close fatherly relationship with Mable (Zoey Deutch), who works in his shop, but she is desperate to leave Chicago and travel the world. She dreams of moving to Paris and asks Leonard for a raise despite insisting that she can take care of herself. While Deutch is gone for much of the middle of the film, she gives a fantastic performance as a woman desperate to get out of her circumstances.
Rylance’s beautiful performance anchors the film and he is able to make the audience feel for his character through very subtle acting. From meticulously folding scarves to making perfect seams, watching him at his craft is almost hypnotizing. Leonard insists that he is a cutter, not a tailor (a distinction seemingly lost in the decades between when the film takes place and our modern-day) and he once owned a shop on Saville Row before moving to Chicago.
Now, his shop is frequented by mobsters Richie (Dylan O’Brien), Francis (Johnny Flynn), and Richie’s father Roy (Simon Russell Beale). Leonard accepts their business and allows them to keep a dropbox in his shop where men come to leave letters and packages, but he is wary of them. “Those men may be customers, but they are not gentlemen,” he tells Mable. Without stating it, he knows the sort of business that they are involved in but prefers to turn a blind eye.
One night, Francis and Richie stumble into Leonard’s shop, with Richie bleeding profusely from a bullet wound. There’s tension between the two men as Richie is the swaggering, cocky son of the boss whereas Francis is the more serious, ruthless employee and each resents the other’s position in Roy’s life. O’Brien and Flynn have perfected the balance of self-assured charm and danger, though both of their accents are somewhat questionable.
Francis demands that Leonard help patch Richie up and he reluctantly agrees. Over the course of the night, the men explain their conflict with another local group and that they’re sure there’s a rat in their midst. As accusations fly and blame is shifted from person to person, the plot continually gets thicker. Moore does an excellent job of building tension and continually raising the stakes.
The Outfit has one plot twist after another and perhaps takes one turn too many, but the film is so beautiful that it’s hard to care. From the score by Alexandre Desplat to the cinematography by Dick Pope, every element of it feels as meticulously crafted as the suits that Leonard makes. William Goldenberg’s editing shines in the brief montages of Leonard working and the costumes by Sophie O’Neill and Zac Posen are suitably impressive. From the men’s detailed suits to Mable’s more colorful outfits, each piece is befitting of a film centering around a tailor.
The production design by Gemma Jackson and set decoration by Tonja Schurmann create a setting that is able to sustain interest over the course of the film’s runtime despite taking place in one location. The tailor’s shop has an appropriately lived-in quality and Moore is able to utilize the space in a way that keeps the film visually interesting.
From its beautiful design to its strong performances, this film is another solid offering from Focus Features. Moore and the cast are able to make the audience care about what happens to these characters, even despite the knowledge that many of them are unsavory figures. The film, with its one setting, has a theatrical feel to it that allows the actors plenty of opportunities to show off their acting, and Rylance and Deutch especially shine. The Outfit will keep you on the edge of your seat and absolutely lives up to the title of a thriller.
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Featured Image Credit: Focus Features.
Nicole Ackman is a writer, podcaster, and historian based in North Carolina. She loves period dramas, the MCU, and theatre. Nicole is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and the Online Association of Female Film Critics and is Tomato-Meter Approved.