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The Outfit (A Movie Review)


Starring Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Johnny Flynn, Dylan O'Brien, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Simon Russell Beale,Alan Mehdizadeh, Scoop Wasserstein and Johnathan McClain.

Screenplay by Graham Moore and Johnathan McClain.

Directed by Graham Moore.

Distributed by Focus Features. 106 minutes. Rated R.

The Outfit explores the not very well explored crossroads where violent organized crime meets sophisticated haberdashery. While it is a road not often travelled, this collision of worlds turns out to be the basis for a pretty gripping film noir thriller.

The Outfit is highly theatrical. All of the action takes place on one extended set, with a limited cast and the dialogue is a little verbose, but complicated and smart. It all feels wonderfully old-fashioned. It is almost like one of those old parlor mystery plays like Sleuth or Deathtrap, and yet it is also strangely cinematic.

Even the lead cast betrays the film’s theatrical bearing. Mark Rylance has done some fine work on screen (in things like Bridge of Spies and The BFG), but he is probably best known for his theatrical work, as is Simon Russell Beale, who plays the head of a local crime syndicate.

That particular crime syndicate is both a blessing and a curse for Leonard Burling, a former Saville Row cutter (he explains dismissively that a cutter is much more skilled work than being a mere tailor) who has somehow ended up in Chicago in the 1950s.

Burling blames prevailing fashion trends for his trans-Atlantic journey – specifically blue jeans cutting deeply into the market of fine men’s attire. However, although he is very tight-lipped about it (he’s very tight-lipped about almost everything), it appears there may have been some vague unstated trauma back home which forced him to relocate across the pond.

The problem is, blue jeans are in Chicago, too, and his fine clothing is a luxury that not many can afford. Some of the few who can are members of the Boyle crime family, specifically kingpin Roy Boyle (Beale), who has championed Burling’s work, as well as his handsome-but-hot-headed son Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and a scheming lieutenant named Francis (Johnny Flynn).

Not only are they his best clients, but as part of the cost of doing business in their territory, Johnny has to look the other way when they receive covert communications delivered to Burling’s office, or plan jobs and hits in his store. The courtly Burling is familiar with crime from his Cockney roots, so he mostly tries to stay out of the way and is always exceedingly polite.

All he wants is to be left alone to do his work. And to perhaps teach his young apprentice Mable (Zoey Deutch) the practice of cutting and creating fine clothing, in the hopes that maybe someday she will take over his shop.

Or is that all he wants?

He’s always there, always observing things. Periodically he’ll even probe a little bit into what is going on – in a shy, retiring way, of course. There is a war brewing between the Boyle gang and the rival La Fontaine Gang over the territory, and it is quickly ratcheting up in violence. The Boyle Gang is trying to join a mysterious larger entity called “The Outfit,” a shadowy council of organized crime dating back to the Al Capone days.

Whether he wants it or not (and we’re never completely sure until the end), Burling has a front row seat to all of the mayhem.

And once it starts, it goes at a dizzying pace. No one is quite who they seem to be. Everyone is willing to cross and double-cross each other. The war ramps up, bodies start to pile up and still Burling is keeping his secrets.

This is a very smart production – both on a technical level (the sets are perfectly evocative of the era and the clothing is to die for) and on a narrative level (the story is knotty and always keeps you guessing). The acting is also out of this world, particularly Rylance and Deutch as the assistant who is much more complicated and savvier than you might expect in this very male-dominated world.

At one point in the script, Burling points out that perfection is something we all strive for, but which we cannot hope to achieve. This is true, but good for The Outfit for striving. It comes closer than most would expect.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2022 All rights reserved. Posted: March 14, 2022.


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