Graham Moore’s directorial debut effectively uses a wily cast and the script’s innate staginess.
On a chilly December night, mobsters in 1920s Chicago have nowhere to go but a tailor’s workshop. Apologies; not a tailor. A cutter. This isn’t like any man you’ve met, not at least while looking for someone to fix your favorite suit. He’ll put together the suit you’ll wear at your office Christmas party, but he may also be the cleverest strategist on the block. And that tension is at the heart of The Outfit, a surprisingly taut, stagelike thriller with some great performances at its center.
With The Outfit, Graham Moore, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay of The Imitation Game, delivers a gripping story that unfolds like a stage play, mainly using one location and letting the performances set the pace, tone, tension, and action throughout.
Mark Rylance delivers one of the best performances of his career as Leonard Burling, a cutter who gets entangled in criminal activities he doesn’t want to take any part in. An immigrant from Britain and veteran of the First World War, Leonard is your classic man-with-a-secret-past, his fastidiousness hiding a calculated survival instinct. It’s something that comes in handy when he relents to his shop being used as a stash house for dirty money by the Chicago mafia.
Leonard knows the danger he’s in but continues to acquiesce to his handler’s demands, solving problems in the background while doing his best to make himself invisible. After a violent shootout, Richie Boyle (Dylan O’Brien) is brought into Leonard’s shop with a bullet nestled deep into his stomach. The cutter must save his life by sewing the wound shut as if the boy was an evening blazer while Francis (Johnny Flynn) is pointing a gun at him.
Francis happens to be Richie’s father, mob boss Roy Boyle’s (Simon Russell Beale) right-hand man. He is well positioned within the mob and is afraid of the titular Outfit, a secret, Capone-founded organization dedicated to protecting criminals from the law. He wants to ensure nothing happens to his boss’s son and best friend. This improvised surgery would only be the first complication for mild-mannered Leonard, who gets involved with criminal organizations when he just wants to be left alone. Instead, he must save a mobster’s son and keep their secrets if he wishes to remain alive.
The Outfit’s theatrical influence is evident in how Moore blocks and stages the actors. Careful placing of the characters, dialogue that dares you to stay engaged so you won’t miss a thing, and a plot that slithers along like a snake enchanting its prey. It all results in a gripping crime drama as cold as the Chicago streets it takes place in.
In a context where it would be pretty difficult to express any sentiment without heavy dialogue, Rylance pulls through with a comforting reassurance and a very communicative gaze. He plays a man who didn’t choose to be involved with the mob but must now be a part of it, doing everything in his power to protect one of their men and their information.
A character as developed as Leonard can’t come to life without a passionate, intelligent actor like Rylance. But the character’s brilliance is also a testament to Moore’s script (penned alongside Jonathan McClain), which doles out one twist and one secret after another at a welcome pace.
The supporting cast is also solid, with Zoey Deutch‘s Mable (Leonard’s naive, adventurous assistant) as a particular standout. Passionate about her dreams of saving up so she can leave America to look for better opportunities, she also carries surprising reserves of cunning as the script’s twists and turns progress. Francis is a solid antagonist, looking out for his own survival by allying with whoever holds power in any given situation, and Beale’s mob boss evokes sympathy, almost enough to make you forget how ruthless he can be.
Emotional performances, clever staging, and an exciting plot are the foundation of this crime thriller. The Outfit is a gripping psychological drama ready to weave through the threads of betrayal, violence, and the ability to win a war with intelligence while never firing a single bullet.
The Outfit is currently available on VOD.