There’s poetry in every corner and crevice of The Outfit. From the look of the film to its structure to the characters to the performances to the written words, its being creates a picture of unspoken emotions and intent, eventually laid bare with a denouement that simultaneously confounds and delights. Even the title itself is a simple two-word poem, revealing different meanings and layers as the movie progresses.
Its opening stanza finds us on a snow-swept Chicago corner in the 1950s, where a nondescript men’s tailor’s shop welcomes its proprietor, British expat Leonard (Mark Rylance). The building and storefront are nothing of note, blending into the scenery around it; it’s only when the camera tracks closer and we notice the word “bespoke” on the window – a word where most would just simply put “tailor” – that something different lies inside.
And truly, both literally and figuratively, something different does lie in wait. There’s a richness of being, both in the physical look and feel of the store and in the manner in which Leonard carries himself and operates, that contrasts the everyday outer garment of the store. Warm woods and accoutrements speak of the wisdom of Leonard’s craft, in addition to his studied movements accompanied by an equally knowing voiceover describing his tailor’s – sorry, he defines himself as a “cutter,” not a “tailor” – process.
We’re taken further into the store into its second room, a lounge-like space where one could sip tea while mulling over Leonard’s clothing options. And even further back is a brick-walled workshop area containing all the tools of his trade – his shears, thread, a work table, and other implements and storage units… including a box on the wall into which suited men furtively drop envelopes, collected periodically by local mobster Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and his lackey, Francis (Johnny Flynn). And when one of those envelopes is discovered to carry an illicit recording made by the FBI, Leonard’s shop turns into a battleground of wits and bullets as he tries to protect himself and his shop assistant Mable (Zoey Deutch) from the fallout this tape has caused.
The film makes the most of its title’s simple words. “The Outfit” is another name for the Chicago Mafia, who’s alerted Richie’s mob boss father Roy (Simon Russell Beale) that they’ve got a rat in the house. “The outfit” could be the suit Leonard’s working on throughout the film’s duration. The “outfit” might also be the various fronts people put on to hide their true motives, whether sympathetic to Richie and Roy’s family or working against them. The store itself could be considered “the outfit,” as it is the film’s sole location, clothing the events that occur within.
Or the “outfit” could be Leonard himself, showing a composed face while having to physically and mentally duck and dodge the duplicitous nature of those who enter his store. And over the span of one night, his outfit comes undone a stitch at a time, giving way to his own damning truth. Rylance anchors this movie soundly with his performance, tone, and stature. He gives Leonard a tired and worldly countenance and demeanor, all of which goes a long way toward showing his calming influence over the night’s proceedings, even as they spin out of control. He fashions and maintains a stalwart figure in Leonard, a man whose gentle presence belies a formidableness earned through his years and history, and Rylance manifests this subtlety with his entire being.
Director/co-writer Graham Moore shows the same even-handed, thorough assuredness with which he helmed The Imitation Game. There’s a feeling of deftness, a light touch which he gives this otherwise heavy film, striking a tone of opposites. While the script dictates its hairy circumstances, Moore’s direction has more of a guiding feel rather than someone pushing for the maximum. He doesn’t force things at or on us; instead, we’re allowed to witness the events in Leonard’s shop unfold as they should, reveling in the spaces between dialogue and action beats.
The Outfit is outstanding work. It’s a one-location story, with the bulk of it told over one calamitous night; its limited time and scope allow for us to focus our attentions fully toward each person in Leonard’s domain. Our attentions are given freely and without hesitation, a masterful indicator of Moore’s solid direction. Aiding him is Mark Rylance, who cuts Leonard out of whole cloth and manufactures a performance full of the little touches and nuances that make an outfit memorable and distinct, just like a good tailor should.
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