The Outfit is the directorial debut of Graham Moore, best known as a novelist and screenwriter, with his best-known work in the latter discipline being his award-winning script for the Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game. As with that film, The Outfit is a dialogue-heavy character piece highlighting human interaction, but unlike that script, it has a heavy emphasis on everything being not as it seems.
Mark Rylance leads the film as Leonard Burling, an English Cutter (what we would most commonly think of as a tailor, but Burling explains early in the film why ‘cutter’ is the correct term and why he is not happy to be described as anything else). It is 1956, and Leonard runs an outfitters in Chicago, having left England for unspecified reasons some years before.
READ MORE: The Witch – 4K UHD Blu-ray Review
The neighbourhood in which he works is controlled by the mob boss Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale), who uses Leonard’s shop as somewhere to stash his dirty money. This is tolerated by Burling, as the mob are good customers, and, as he asks no questions; he has avoided knowing anything that could incriminate him. He works alongside Mable (Zoey Deutch), a young woman who performs her job well enough, but has no interest in learning the profession, and talks often of leaving the city. She is also the girlfriend of Roy’s son, Ritchie (Dylan O’Brien).
After a late-night confrontation (not seen by the viewer) between the Boyles and the rival LaFontaine family, Francis (Johnny Flynn) – an adopted member of the family – turns up at the store with an injured Ritchie. Burling is forced to treat the gunshot wounds and is made party to a copy of an FBI recording of detailed information on the family’s activities. He is told that this comes from The Outfit, a nationwide body originally founded by Al Capone which was set-up to protect criminal groups from the law.
What follows is long game of Leonard planting ideas in the minds of Francis, Ritchie and Roy that will leave each of them, at various times unsure of who they can trust. The motivations for our lead taking this path, and to what he aspires, will be revealed as the story unfolds. We learn that he is not what he seems; his skillset is far more developed than we see at the outset, and it appears that he has been planning for this night for some time.
That is all that can be said about The Outfit, without ruining the entire experience for the viewer. It will not be a wildly successful film, on a commercial level, as it takes place all in one room – the main ‘working’ room at the back of the shop – has little in the way of action, and, more crucially, cannot be promoted or described without revealing that there is a degree of cross and double-cross in the film, stemming from a lead character that this not at all that he appears.
This is a work best experienced without knowing anything. In fact, having not read anything prior to viewing, it would not have been unreasonable to expect the film to resemble Daniel Day-Lewis’ Phantom Thread. Once underway, it looks more like it will be a sprawling mob drama. To be clear this is, effectively, a film that is probably best suited to theatre: an intimate character piece, with the tension coming entirely from the viewer not knowing either what a character knows, or what they could be about to find out.
READ MORE: Backyard Village – Film Review
Mark Rylance is perfect for the role of Leonard, bringing the understated, slightly inscrutable quality that we saw in Bridge of Spies, and Dunkirk. Johnny Flynn’s Francis is terrifying yet brings a sense of loyalty to the family to his role. No one here is all good or all bad, and it make it a terrific watch.
There are some minor lapses into cliche in places, with Mable talking of getting out of this town being something we’ve seen in any number of by-the-numbers mob dramas, but it’s all in service of a work that cannot be recommended highly enough as a film for when a dialogue and tension-heavy work, where total concentration is required, is wanted from the menu. Recommended.