A tailor and his assistant become caught up in organised crime in Graham Moore’s compelling drama.
Seven years after winning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for The Imitation Game, writer Graham Moore follows up that biopic with an original, largely effective thriller. Co-written with Johnathan McClain, The Outfit is also Moore’s feature-directing debut.
Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) is an Englishman operating a small bespoke tailor shop in Chicago circa 1956. Trained on Savile Row, his business is located in a rough part of the city, rife with criminal feuds. But the primary clientele for Leonard’s business includes an Irish-American gangster family who are among the only people who can afford his clothes. His very first client when he started in Chicago was crime boss Roy (Simon Russell Beale), who admired his craftsmanship.
Assisted by secretary Mabel (Zoey Deutch), Leonard avoids learning the grisly intimacies of his most loyal customers’ line of work, but does allow them use of a locked letterbox in the back room for covertly passing on communications. One day, Roy’s actual son, Richie (Dylan O’Brien), and a surrogate one, Francis (Johnny Flynn), collect an envelope with instructions associated with something called ‘The Outfit’.
The following night, before clocking off, Leonard is ambushed by the two men, with Richie wounded from a bullet. With police cars on patrol after the gunfire, they need a hideout while they determine how to smoke out a ‘rat’ in the gang, brought to their attention by the contents of that mysterious envelope.
Two years on from the start of Covid’s disruptive effect on film production, it’s been interesting to observe just how post-pandemic safety measures have impacted on Hollywood films. You’d be hard-pressed to tell that the sprawling Licorice Pizza was entirely shot under Covid restrictions, while the staging of even basic conversation scenes makes it completely obvious in green screen-heavy blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home.
A Focus Features/Universal release, The Outfit occupies a sweet spot in-between. A chamber piece with a small, charismatic cast, in a location made vivid thanks to strong production design, would seem an ideal model for lower-budget counter-programming efforts, should audiences show up. And with Dick Pope on cinematography duty, the visual realisation tends to avoid staginess.
That said, one of the few points of artistic compromise is driven home by a line late in the film, coming from Violet (Nikki Amuka-Bird), head of a rival French organisation. “Mon dieu, this city,” she says of recent events. As much as the dialogue throughout attempts to paint a picture of the Chicago neighbourhood, the only exterior shots in the entire film are those of the outside of Leonard’s shop on a London soundstage. And while the involved weapon is admittedly heavily foreshadowed, one particular violent moment in the climax nonetheless comes across like a studio-mandated request for something pulpier to close the film on.
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