The Outfit (Review): Measured, Cut, and Delivered to My Tastes

The Outfit easily exceeded my low expectations and then some! It was actually quite impressive in multiple regards. Read on for my in-depth opinions…

Mark Rylance stars as Leonard, a tailor in 1950s Chicago who occasionally services the mob. One night, some of these mobsters break into his store after a firefight and demands he help them lay low. They carry an incriminating tape which the FBI and their fellow criminals seek to obtain by any means necessary. Leonard must navigate an intricate web of criminality and protect himself, whilst these mobsters use his shop as a base for the evening.

As I noted up top: I had no expectations going in for this film. I’d only heard of The Outfit from a trailer I watched in theatres last week. And it caught my interest. So I checked it out the other day, ’cause there was nothing else I wanted to see. Great choice! I had a fantastic time with this one.

I began to gravitate towards this film when I realized that the WHOLE thing would take place inside Leonard’s small tailor shop. I love movies which successfully tell an entire story in one location. The claustrophobic environment increases tension and shows off the production team’s skill. Making one small building feel interesting for two hours is an impressive feat!

I also adored recognizing the plot mechanics which kept some characters in the shop, and forced other to leave, and had some of them return later. Such excuses could easily seem contrived, especially considering the plot took place over one night. But I bought into it fully!

Maybe I ought to branch off that point: The Outfit adapts a well-written screenplay. It’s tight, character-driven, and twisty! The story always had my full attention because the plot continually forced my perspective on the situation to change. We’re always learning new things about characters, or the plot– most of which make you re-think everything you’ve just seen. The Outfit keeps you guessing, and it’s exhilarating!

Every detail was relevant. No piece of information was wasted, so far as I could tell. And nearly every clue was eventually paid off (I say “nearly”, although I can’t remember anything that was left unanswered). I’m impressed by how efficient and well-developed this story was written!

Richie Boyle loses his cool on… somebody.
from Focus Features

You can probably guess some of what’s happening if you’re paying close enough attention. The hints are there for you to piece together. This is practically a mystery-film (but without a detective). Who’s the rat in the mob? Why do THESE specific characters have a role to play in the story? Every answer leads to more questions, and it’s all deeper than it first appears.

I unraveled many of the clues myself, although I don’t tend to watch movies that way. I prefer to enjoy a plot as it unfurls, unless its twists are painfully obvious. I’m not sure if anyone can guess exactly what happens in this story. And you may not even totally get its intricacies once you’ve left the theatre (I’m still piecing the elements together myself). It’s the kind of film you ought to watch twice to be certain you caught everything.

If I had to criticize the script for one thing, that would be its abundance of exposition. Most of the action happens off screen, while certain characters are away from the shop. But, because we only ever see what Leonard sees, we only learn of outside events once Leonard learns them. This focus in perspective is a good way to maintain engagement, but it also means a lot of explanatory dialogue.

That’s sure to turn a lot of people off. But the exposition was incorporated as well as it could have been. Sure, it spelled out a lot of plot information. Yet most of the lines also doubled as character-revealing moments which effectively built the core cast’s personalities. The WAY characters speak of the events tells us just as much about them as the events themselves. So that’s an important element to keep in mind.

Another criticism: I’m not sold on The Outfit‘s ending. The tone of this film was relatively subdued, and psychologically tense. But the end allowed that tension explode in unexpected ways. I thought what happened was cool, but that it wasn’t necessarily “earned” or strictly necessary. Things went a BIT more over the top than I needed them to go.

Everybody in The Outfit plays their roles well! And all the characters were given their due– at least enough to understand their gist. It’s rare I come out of a film with such a clear picture of the supporting characters’ complexities. Usually the protagonist gets all the glory in these stories and the rest of the characters are left to rot.

But let’s talk about that protagonist first, shall we? Mark Rylance is charming and understated as Leonard. But he stands out in a movie full of big personalities. Leonard is wise and intellectual and wants only to run his shop in peace. If making suits for the mob brings him an income and a level of respect, then so be it. He actually abhors criminality. But he’s willing to play neutral for the sake of his business.

The moral compromises this man is willing to make just to be left alone are intriguing and thought provoking. How would you handle a similar situation? If helping the mob cover up crimes for a night would mean you and other innocent people got to live, would you do it? Though his reasoning makes an extra layer of sense once you uncover his full set of circumstances.

The Outfit‘s main antagonist is named Francis (Johnny Flynn). He’s the main crime boss’ favourite, and a loyal member of “the family”. But those loyalties are tested when he comes into possession of information he would prefer the boss not learn. So, not only must he navigate his original mission in the tailor shop that night, but he must work to protect certain secrets from escaping. His knowledge is a matter of life and death for a number of people.

Flynn played Francis cold, calculating, and ruthless. He was easy to provoke, yet stunningly relaxed in his approach to conflict. He maintained an air of self-confidence, and aloofness. And I found his presence intimidating. You’ve probably seen this kind of character in gangster movies before– but I enjoyed this particular iteration of the type. Francis begins The Outfit a simple mobster before growing into something more intriguing.

Leonard’s primary ally in the film is his receptionist and protege, Mable Shaun (Zoey Deutch). She’s a young woman with big aspirations of escaping her neighborhood and seeing the world! But she doesn’t make much money from her tailor shop job. At least she enjoys Leonard’s company. But Mable’s ambitions also lead her to make risky decisions, such as dating mobsters.

Mable and Leonard decide their next move during an intense moment.
from Focus Features

Deutch clearly had some fun in this role. And I had fun watching her portray Mable! Her sassy back-and-forths with Mark Rylance make up the heart of the film. And the two had good chemistry. I was interested in Mable’s story and genuinely curious what would become of her.

Richie Boyle (Dylan O’Brien) is the son of the neighborhood’s biggest mobster. He carries a desperate need to prove his worth to the family, and detests Francis’ high influence with his father. He’s quick to temper, not very smart, and generally dangerous. So he ends up a well-used foil to the aims of every other character. You never know how he’s gonna make things worse, but he somehow finds a way.

The Outfit features a few other minor characters as well, though I hesitate to mention them because they don’t come into play ’till later. I do my best to avoid any spoilers here.

Graham Moore handled The Outfit with a surprising level of craft for his debut directorial project! I guess it’s bad of me to assume that, if I haven’t heard of someone, their work will be mediocre… But Moore crafted a series of genuinely tense sequences. Although it surely helps that he co-wrote wrote the film (with Johnathan McClain)! Wearing the hats of both writer and director tends to breed an unparalleled level of care and familiarity with the story.

SIDE NOTE: I’m a writer and director I don’t wear hats at all…

I wish more films could accomplish this level of nerve-inducing thrill. And I love that few of the moments required shouting, explosions, or drawn-out action scenes to achieve their goals. What Moore did here is relatively simple but it works! Simplicity is the beauty of it.

The Outfit featured subtle but effective production design. The tailor shop’s rooms evoke strong personality without seeming overtly lavish. Its space is elegant, old-fashioned, and well-ordered. Even the furniture looks old (old even for the 1950s period setting, I mean). Yet all these elements are representative of its owner.

Dick Pope’s cinematography was cold and muted, evoking the winter season’s palate and vibe. His style conjured the same feelings one might experience being stuck outside on a winter evening: uncomfort, and desperation to find somewhere warmer. Like Leonard, on this cold winter night, we must suffer through till sunrise as best we can. Only, the cold is less of a problem than the paranoid killers besieging Leonard’s shop, and the “warmth” is a stand-in for his comfort-zone. It’s all metaphorical, see? But that’s how the cinematography conveys these messages, so far as I can tell. It was well done!

The Outfit‘s cast crew crafted a complex crime drama, the likes of which I’ve never seen executed in this way (not to say it’s necessarily “original”; I just haven’t seen anything like it before). A compelling screenplay drives this cool story, which asks complex questions about moral boundaries. All in all I had a good time with this one!

But my biggest takeaway from The Outfit: I could use a custom-made suit, ASAP.

As far as modern gangster films go, The Outfit was a Pretty Darn Good surprise.

Any recommendations for good mob movies (NOT made by Coppola or Scorsese)? What did you think of The Outfit? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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