The Outfit review: Mark Rylance is a perfect fit for this fastidiously crafted crime drama
Dir: Graham Moore. Starring: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Johnny Flynn, Dylan O'Brien, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Simon Russell Beale. Cert 15, 105 minutes
“This isn’t art; this is a craft” is a phrase used by Leonard (Mark Rylance), the hero of crime drama The Outfit, to describe his work. And he is, above all, precise about his work. Call him a cutter, never a tailor. He isn’t just some handyman who hems trousers and reattaches buttons – he’s a surgeon of textiles, an engineer with a needle and thread. There are 38 separate pieces that make up a well-cut suit. And in the coming together of those pieces, Leonard reckons his can size up the measure of a man.
It’s 1956 and Leonard has set up shop in Chicago. He claims he was driven out of London’s Savile Row by the boom in blue jeans – if that’s the excuse you want to believe. One demographic of men still dedicated to the art of fine dressing are the city’s gangsters, and so Leonard’s parlour has become a miniature crime haven, where secret messages are left in drop boxes while the owner quietly oils his shears in the corner and looks the other way. One night, Richie (Dylan O’Brien), the upstart son of one of the local bosses, Roy (Simon Russell Beale), comes in with a bullet in the gut and his slithery pal Francis (Johnny Flynn) in tow. They’ve got a briefcase with them, which contains an incriminating tape pointing to the identity of a potential rat in their crime family.
The Outfit, the directorial debut of Graham Moore, who co-wrote the script with Johnathan McClain, feels carefully shaped around Leonard’s mindset. It’s chiefly a work of cinematic craft, not art – though that’s not necessarily a derogatory label, since there’s so much pleasure to be found in its construction (though, admittedly, the very last twist pushes things a tad too far). Just like one of Leonard’s suits, we’re watching many separate pieces – characters, clues, and revelations – harmoniously come together as one. We’re constantly left guessing who the rat is, and who really has control over the situation. Moore’s camera almost never leaves the confines of Leonard’s shop, handsomely dressed by production designer Gemma Jackson in rich woods and creamy tones, so that the entire film plays like an extended cowboy showdown.
Moore, who won an Oscar for his screenplay for The Imitation Game, seems particularly interested in men primed to observe, rather than lead or speak. Even when Leonard’s chatting away with his semi-captors, his words seem rather weightless, as if they were something simply to fill the air while his mind quietly calculates his next move. He’s like a chess master, in a way, and few actors could maintain that magnetic stillness quite like Rylance, who always seems to express so much while doing so little. O’Brien and Flynn make for fine opponents, too – completely his opposite in their wiry, skittish energy.
If Leonard does have a capacity for sentimentality, he saves it for his receptionist, Mable (Zoey Deutch), who’s pitched as the consciously feminist archetype of the soft-hearted innocent who’s smarter than she lets on. And it feels a little too slight, as if only done out of necessity, to have Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Violet LaFontaine turn up near the end to lecture the other characters about the racial dynamics of the city’s crime syndicates. Violet’s dialogue is the first and only time The Outfit really bothers to look beyond the small-time dramatics happening inside Leonard’s shop and to the world outside. Real lives and emotions are messy, unfit for The Outfit’s fastidiously manufactured thrills.