Contrary to what its title might make you think, The Outfit is less interested in putting together an ensemble than it is in tearing away the layers of one man’s façade. In this case, the man in question is Leonard (Mark Rylance), a British immigrant who runs a tailor shop in midcentury Chicago. As his opening narration tells us, Leonard takes pride in his work, and he loves his tailor shop so much that he’s willing to let the local mob use it as an unofficial post office if it means he gets to keep it open.
But Leonard is not as unassuming and carefree as he wants everyone around him to believe. Much like the suits he cuts and stitches together for his clients, Leonard is a man of many layers. The Outfit seeks to gradually peel away those layers over the course of its 106-minute runtime, and to its credit, the film never struggles to come up with entertaining ways to reveal new shades of its central protagonist.
Based on an original screenplay co-written by Johnathan McClain and director Graham Moore (The Imitation Game), The Outfit focuses on Leonard when his life is thrown into complete disarray after his gangster clients decide to use his tailor shop as a safehouse. Set entirely in his shop, the film follows Leonard as he finds himself caught up in a mob conspiracy involving an FBI tape and an enemy gang, forcing him to make a number of increasingly difficult decisions over the course of a single night.
The Outfit is one of the rare films that, like David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises or William Friedkin’s The French Connection, seeks to work as both a character study and crime thriller. To its credit, the film mostly succeeds at doing that. As a contained, paranoia-driven gangster flick, The Outfit provides enough moments of fittingly bloody violence and genuine hair-raising tension to be a consistently entertaining, fun ride.
Once the film’s plot kicks into gear, it rarely ever pauses to allow the audience or its characters a moment to breathe. Its script constantly introduces new twists and players into an already complicated conflict, which helps the film move at a relatively brisk pace. Unfortunately, The Outfit’s desire to be constantly entertaining is what also leads to some of its biggest issues.
In their attempt to make the film’s story as unpredictable as possible, Moore and McClain pack too many moments into its third act that not only fail to be as surprising as some of The Outfit‘s earlier twists but also end up being more confusing than awe-inspiring. Furthermore, although Mark Rylance’s Leonard is an intriguing figure for much of The Outfit’s runtime, the movie ultimately reveals a bit too much about him. The film’s third act, in particular, robs the character of much of his mystery.
While The Outfit does fumble its exploration of Leonard, Mark Rylance never has any trouble keeping your attention on him. Rylance is a performer who knows how useful stillness and silence can be on the big screen, and he uses both skills to powerful effect in The Outfit. The actor navigates his character’s various layers and lies with expert precision, always doing just enough to let us know when Leonard has a new trick up his sleeve without ever overly telegraphing what he’s going to do next.
It doesn’t hurt that Rylance is surrounded by a number of talented performers in The Outfit, including Johnny Flynn, Dylan O’Brien, Zoey Deutch, Simon Russell Beale, and Nikki Amuka-Bird. For his part, Flynn is properly menacing as a mob enforcer who finds himself sharing a number of deadly secrets with Rylance’s Leonard, and O’Brien brings the right level of petulance and arrogance to his performance as Richie, a gangster prince desperate to prove that he’s worthy of becoming king one day.
However, while they play their roles well, the film’s supporting actors are all portraying recognizable crime movie archetypes, whether it be the skilled and loyal enforcer, the unpredictable hothead, or the femme fatale with more secrets than she lets on. Thankfully, that’s part of the film’s design, as it uses the familiarity of its supporting players to make Rylance’s soft-spoken, brilliant tailor stand out that much more. As a result, even if the film can’t help but reveal too much about him, Rylance’s Leonard remains the most interesting person in the room from the moment The Outfit begins to the moment it ends.
Much like its protagonist, The Outfit is both more than it appears to be on the surface and frustratingly less than the sum of its many parts. As an exploration of one surprisingly capable man, the film is a flawed character study that doesn’t know how to stop when it’s ahead. However, as an exercise in building and sustaining tension, The Outfit is an enjoyable and often effective crime thriller, one that succeeds in making the absolute most out of its limited scope.
It’s a well-crafted piece of popcorn entertainment that, perhaps more than anything else, serves as a potent reminder that there are few things more powerful than watching a person be forced to make decisions they normally wouldn’t. After all, a man’s attire can tell you a lot about him, but it’s his choices that ultimately tell you who he truly is. The Outfit proves that.
The Outfit hits theaters on Friday, March 18.
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