Starring Mark Rylance, Johnny Flynn, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, Simon Russell Beale, Nikki Amuka-Bird,
Marketing might make “The Outfit” look like a Guy Ritchie film, but subtlety is the fashion trend here. Directed and co-written by Graham Moore, the “Imitation Game” writer/producer takes the reins of his first feature film. His directing style is steady and focused, slowly unveiling a mob mystery that all takes place inside a suit shop.
Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”, “Don’t Look Up”) is perfectly cast as the grandfather figure: soft spoken, never in a rush, yet direct when explaining the difference between a tailor and a cutter. Similar to previous Rylance performances, his dry delivery can be infuriatingly slow, creating a real engagement problem for the first thirty minutes. The cleverness of the script doesn’t kick in until the second act.
From the prestigious Savile Row Fashion District in London, to a dull street in Chicago, Leonard (Rylance) spends his days making men’s suits. As he cuts, sews and creates clothes, young men stop by daily to retrieve mail from a secure box in the back of his shop. Neither he nor secretary Mable (Zoey Deutch) ask questions, they simply carry on about their business. On a normal evening, one of the men, the boss’s son (Dylan O’Brien) is injured, and the suit shop the safest spot in town.
The cleverness of the script doesn’t kick in until the second act.
Where “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” had its own specific vocabulary, “The Outfit” has dedicated words that mean something different, “marble” meaning “bullet,” for instance. From the opening of the film, that first voice over, the script is telling one story with two meanings for everything. The plot is insular, with all the action taking place in the small shop that is divided into three sections with sliding doors. It’s different from movies like “Panic Room” or “Knives Out,” which also mostly take place in one location, but those were multilevel homes, this is one singular space. The camera work isn’t fancy or even creative, but creative movement never makes the audience feel boxed in. This isn’t an action movie however, it’s a “talk your way out of things” movie, where bad guys seem more than willing to hold off on killing someone while Leonard tells a story.
“The Outfit” uses limitations of low budget 1950s B-film westerns or mob films to creatively work around. Modern technology and talent in the editing room mask the restrictive nature of production. As the characters refer to “Pops,” the mobster at the top, before his appearance, he is built up as someone about to come on screen and evoke fear into the plot. No offense to Simon Russell Beale, but Pops’ arrival on screen doesn’t have the effect it should. The casting aside from Rylance and Nikki Amuka-Bird is a bit on the disappointing side, and some on-the-nose genre tropes (blood dripping from a box, or constantly alluding to large scissors) are a bit tiring. Mature audiences looking for subtly and creativity in word play will enjoy “The Outfit” more than those seeking action, suspense or thrills.
Rylance is ideally cast as a mysterious “Cutter” who talks as slow as the plot moves so the audience can hang on every word.