Outfit, The (United States, 2022)

March 15, 2022
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Outfit, The Poster

While watching The Outfit, a new film from director Graham Moore, I was reminded of the classic Sleuth – not in terms of specific plot points but in the way the film employs misdirection to increase the level of suspense, and also in the use of a limited number of characters and a confined setting. To be fair, The Outfit is no Sleuth (although a case can be made that it’s a better movie than Kenneth Branagh’s re-imagination/remake of the latter film), but it’s an engaging caper/mind game in which watching the characters interact is as much fun as mining the truth.

The Outfit transpires in 1956 Chicago. A Savile Row tailor (or, as he prefers to be known, a “cutter”) named Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) crossed the Atlantic in search of a new beginning after the postwar passion for blue jeans left him with diminished prospects in London. He found favor with the head of an Irish mobster family, Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale), who offered him a workshop in exchange for favors. Today, Burling’s isn’t exactly a thriving business but Leonard has enough work to keep him busy and allow him to keep a receptionist, Mable (Zoey Deutch). His shop, however, isn’t entirely his own. It’s used by Boyle’s associates, particularly his son, Richie (Dylan O’Brien), and Richie’s partner, Francis (Johnny Flynn), as a meeting place. Things start going awry when Richie and Francis realize there’s a mole in the organization. Tensions rise and everyone is under suspicion, including the quiet, respectful tailor. When Richie and Francis butt heads, the situation becomes lethal with Leonard and Mable caught in the middle of a dangerous powerplay. 

Although the movie is opening far in advance of the 2022 Oscar season, I’m going to try to remember Rylance’s name when it comes time to list the year’s top performances, because this is one worth noting. Normally a character actor, Rylance rarely gets a chance to front a production as he does here. His portrayal of the steady, inscrutable Leonard challenges his work in Bridge of Spies (for which he won the Supporting Actor Oscar) and Wolf Hall (for which he was nominated for an Emmy) as the best he’s done in his career. The year is still young, but I can’t think of another actor who has stood out this forcefully.

Leonard narrates the story and his words are deceptive at times, allowing the viewer to think something different from what’s actually happening. From scene-to-scene, Leonard seems to be a different person, playing on the weaknesses of others as his true nature and motives are revealed. Moore doesn’t pull the rug out from under us with a Keyzer Soze-style shock, but we’re constantly re-evaluating what Leonard represents as the story unfolds. In the final few minutes (which effectively form an epilogue), the movie goes too far, inexplicably opting for a Hollywood-style twist that conflicts with the fluidity of the previous 90-plus minutes. Although a final piece to Leonard’s jigsaw puzzle personality is revealed, the sequence overall feels unnecessary and is tonally at odds with the rest of the movie.

Existing in Rylance’s shadow (since, considering the strength of his performance, there’s nowhere else to be) are veteran Simon Russell Beale, Dylan O’Brien (who played Thomas in the Maze Runner movies), and Johnny Flynn, all of whom are effective in their respective roles. The cast includes two women: Zoey Deutch, who isn’t always convincing as a 1950s-era woman, and Nikki Amuka-Bird, who plays the leader of the LaFontaines, the Boyles’ rival in finding favor with the mysterious “Outfit” (which is said to own Chicago and has ties to the late Al Capone).

Although there’s some gun play and a body count, The Outfit doesn’t focus on the blood and gore. The film’s dramatic tension comes from the interactions between Leonard and everyone else. When he tells Richie that he’s the mole, is he joking? Telling the truth? Or something in between? Like Richie, we’re not sure whether to believe him or not. Leonard plays the same games with everyone else, constantly hinting that he may not be as simple and straightforward as he seems. And what about his backstory and the supposed reasons he left England? The most compelling aspect of The Outfit is watching as layers of Leonard’s character are peeled back like the skin of an onion.

In the end, the story becomes a little too convoluted and the resolution is over-the-top but, for the most part, the twists and turns keep the viewer engaged, the puzzle pieces fit together on a second viewing, and Rylance never ceases to mesmerize. And, although Moore most likely filmed The Outfit for exhibition on a big screen, the material translates well to a smaller one, which makes it a good fit for the changing nature of today’s cinema.

Outfit, The (United States, 2022)

Director: Graham Moore
Cast: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, Johnny Flynn, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Simon Russell Beale, Alan Mehdizadeh
Home Release Date: 2022-05-03
Screenplay: Graham Moore, Johnathan McClain
Cinematography: Dick Pope
Music: Alexandre Desplat
U.S. Distributor: Focus Features
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2022-03-18
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity)
Genre: Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1