Mark Rylance delivers another superb performance in THE OUTFIT (2022), a compelling thriller which takes place in 1950s Chicago and is about a tailor, played by Rylance, who finds himself in the middle of a mob war fighting for his survival when efforts to find a mob rat play out in his shop during one eventful evening.
Rylance plays Leonard, a World War I veteran who says he moved to Chicago from London when the market for fine clothing dwindled after blue jeans took over the men’s clothing scene. Leonard is quick to point out that he’s not a tailor but a cutter, someone who designs and makes quality suits. The film opens with a voice over of Leonard explaining the many intricate steps of creating such a suit. Leonard owns a small shop with just one employee, his young secretary Mable (Zoey Deutch), who seems to have eyes for the young mobster Richie (Dylan O’Brien) who frequents the shop.
At times, this movie called to mind PHANTOM THREAD (2017), another 1950s period piece in which Daniel Day Lewis played a dressmaker, but that film became a love story, whereas THE OUTFIT becomes a mob crime thriller.
Richie is the son of mob boss Roy (Simon Russell Beale), who uses Leonard’s shop as a front to deposit and retrieve messages from other mobsters. Leonard wants no trouble and allows them use of his shop without argument, as he quietly goes about his cutting business. But one night, Richie and Roy’s right-hand man, Francis (Johnny Flynn) return to the store after being ambushed by a rival family, and Richie has been shot. Francis forces Leonard to sew up the wound, and afterwards, Leonard learns that Richie and Francis have in their possession a cassette tape which when played will reveal the identity of the rat in their outfit who has been supplying information to the FBI. Richie and Francis were on their way to obtaining a recorder to play the tape when they were attacked, and now both the FBI and the rival mobsters want that tape.
Tensions rise between Richie and Francis, as they both suspect the other of being the rat, and things grow more complicated when Roy arrives and then Mable, and through it all, Leonard finds himself having to outwit the mobsters in order to save his life and Mable’s.
THE OUTFIT is a handsome, polished production by first-time director Graham Moore, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Moore also wrote the screenplay for THE IMITATION GAME (2014), the excellent World War II drama which starred Benedict Cumberbatch as genius Alan Turing, the man who cracked the Nazi messaging code.
Here, Moore gives THE OUTFIT a claustrophobic feel as the entire film takes place within the small confines of Leonard’s shop. The costumes and sets look authentic to the period, and the somber cinematography supports the quiet, unobtrusive persona of the solitary cutter.
The screenplay by Moore and Johnathan McClain is excellent. The dialogue is first-rate and the characters, especially Leonard, Richie, and Francis, are well-developed. Things do get more contrived as the story goes along as Leonard continues to pull one rabbit out of his hat after another, and the final premise of the movie, the notion that things were more planned than they seemed, is not terribly convincing.
Mark Rylance, as always, is a joy to watch. If you like fine acting, you want to watch Rylance. He’s a master at his craft and has been memorable in such movies as BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015), DUNKIRK (2017), and more recently DON’T LOOK UP (2021). Here, Rylance plays Leonard as a man who definitely seems to be hiding from some past life, harboring a tragic secret, and we know this long before the plot tells us, because Rylance plays him this way. With his quiet, unassuming and methodical delivery, Rylance makes Leonard someone who is adept at listening and observing details, two skills which serve him well when dealing with the mob.
Also making an impression and giving the second-best performance in the movie is Johnny Flynn as Francis. Flynn stood out as Ian Fleming in the recent World War II drama OPERATION MINCEMEAT (2021), as well as in THE DIG (2021) and in EMMA (2020). Francis is a much different role than the ones Flynn played in these other movies. Francis is a hardened killer, a man who has risen in the mob ahead of the obvious heir apparent, the mobster’s son, which causes a lot of tension between Francis and Richie. Flynn gives an edge to the character which make other characters in the movie as well as the audience feel uncomfortable whenever he’s around.
Simon Russell Beale is spot-on once again as head mobster Roy. Beale also starred in OPERATION MINCEMEAT alongside Johnny Flynn, as Beale played Winston Churchill in that movie. Beale was most memorable, however, in THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017).
Dylan O’Brien is also very good as Richie.
And Zoey Deutch is fine as Mable, Leonard’s secretary, and the two characters share a sort of father/daughter relationship. But the role is limited and doesn’t allow Deutch to show off her talents as well as she has in some other movies, films like BUFFALOED (2019) and ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019).
THE OUTFIT was released theatrically in March and is now available to rent on Prime Video.
The term “outfit” has a double meaning here, as it refers to what Leonard creates as well as being the term used to describe the league of mobsters spread out all around the country. And more specifically, at one point in the movie, Richie’s outfit, his coat, becomes a key item in the plot.
I really enjoyed THE OUTFIT. I could watch Mark Rylance all day, and his performance is the driving force behind this movie, which also tells an entertaining story filled with some twists and turns, and it’s fun to watch Rylance’s character Leonard outsmart the mobsters. It’s also shot very well by first-time director Graham Moore who invites you into this small shop in Chicago in 1956, and under his expert direction, you really feel as if you are truly there.
So much so that when Leonard and Mable are fighting for their lives, you feel as if you are right there with them, which only adds to the suspense and intensity of this fine period piece thriller.