Film & TV

Film Review: ‘The Outfit’: Rookie Director Graham Moore’s Slow Burn Crime Thriller

BY Michael Clark TIMEMarch 22, 2022 PRINT

 While there were some notable exceptions, the first 40 years of Hollywood movies about organized crime rarely strayed from the blueprint established by Warner Bros. studios beginning in the 1930s with the classics “Little Caesar” and “The Public Enemy.”

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Mark Rylance stars in “The Outfit.” (Focus Features)

This all changed with the arrival of “The Godfather” (1972) and its first sequel (1974). Violence was still a key component, but it took a second seat to nuance, and the dramatic aspects became heightened to almost operatic levels. Both films won numerous industry awards including two Oscars for Best Picture. “The Godfather, Part II” is the only sequel to win that particular award (“Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” was part of a planned trilogy and is not considered a sequel).

Not a Wasted Frame To Be Found

Certainly smaller in scale, first time director Graham Moore’s chamber piece “The Outfit” owes a great deal to “The Godfather” films. Dark and brooding in spots, calculating and crackling in others, it is more of a psychological thriller than sweeping epic. Taking place over the course of a single night in mostly one room, it is a slow burn type of affair with multiple (but not too many) twists and turns and absolutely no red herrings. In the best way possible, it teases the audience and is thoroughly lacking in narrative fat.

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Zoey Deutch and Mark Rylance in “The Outfit.” (Focus Features)

Mark Rylance stars as Leonard, an outwardly unassuming craftsman who designs high end men’s clothing. Referred to a few times by others as a “tailor,” he calls himself a “cutter,” a man who honed his trade while apprenticing at Mayfair, London’s Savile Row, a collective of shops considered by most to be the finest of their kind in the world. Why Leonard is now based in Chicago and not London isn’t addressed until late in the third act and provides the story with perhaps its biggest revelation.

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Simon Russell Beale (L) and Mark Rylance in “The Outfit.” (Focus Features)

On a bitterly cold December night in the mid 1950s, Leonard’s uneventful day takes an unwanted detour with the arrival of a Richie (Johnny Flynn, “Bumblebee”) and his “co-worker” Francis (Dylan O’Brien, “Stardust”). They’ve just had a run-in with a rival gang and the freshly shot, bloodied Richie needs cover until his father Roy (Simon Russell Beale, “The Death of Stalin”)—the boss—can provide rescue. In the meantime, Francis orders Leonard to use his sewing skills to stitch Richie up so he won’t bleed to death.

The Envious Co-worker

A silver-spoon type with a misguided, privileged attitude, Richie isn’t exactly a dim bulb, but he certainly wouldn’t be where he is without Roy’s protection—points not lost on the far more talented, calculating, and jealous Francis. As he is beyond dedicated to Roy, Francis tolerates Richie’s shortcomings, but only out of professional necessity.

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Zoey Deutch and Mark Rylance in “The Outfit.” (Focus Features)

Not comfortable with any of the goings on is Leonard’s secretary and assistant Mable (Zoey Deutch, “Rebel in the Rye”). A restless Chicago native, Mable is itching to start traveling to the many cosmopolitan world cities depicted in her collection of snow globes but isn’t quite sure how to get started. Mable views Leonard as a father figure and is none too pleased that Roy and his underlings use her employer’s store as a front, drop location, and meeting place.

From the Oscar-Winning Writer of ‘The Imitation Game’

Also a novelist, Moore was bestowed the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award for “The Imitation Game,” the fact-based World War II story of British cryptographers attempting to crack the German “Enigma” messaging system. Rarely do first-time screenwriters snag such an honor, and it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Moore’s second feature would also include him assuming the director’s chair.

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Graham Moore, director of “The Outfit.” (Focus Features) (2022)

Co-written by Moore and actor and slam-poet Johnathan McClain, “The Outfit” marks a new, welcomed direction for organized crime films. Art and subtlety is valued here over titillation and blood splatter. In the interest of full disclosure, there are four brief scenes featuring violence (two of which are handled off-screen or implied) but none are gratuitous and are present solely to propel the narrative.

Without giving anything whatsoever away, the filmmakers introduce an ingenious MacGuffin (or “plot coupon”) at the start which is revisited many times and is of interest to every character in some form or fashion. It is a most excellent example of storytelling subterfuge and misdirection.

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Johnny Flynn and Zoey Deutsch in “The Outfit.” (Focus Features) (2022)

A 40-plus-year veteran of stage, screen and TV, Ryland (the recipient of multiple Tony and Olivier Awards) flew under the radar of most American movie-goers until 2015 when he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar starring alongside Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies.” Since then, he’s been in high demand, appearing in two further Spielberg films (“The BFG” and “Ready Player One”), Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk,” and most recently, Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” all in supporting roles.

Rylance’s First High-Profile Leading Role

Rylance has played the lead in previous movies, but they were few and far-between and usually in films which rarely enjoyed theatrical releases in the United States outside of New York and Los Angeles. “The Outfit” will likely be the first time most American audiences have a chance to see Rylance in action while not doing so within someone else’s shadow and it is an understated revelation. This is what acting is all about.

We’re not quite a quarter way through 2022 and by the time next year’s awards season begins, Rylance’s performance and the film itself could be too far back in the rearview mirror for most voters to remember. At this point, however, Rylance’s methodical, sly turn and this movie are the best yet of 2022.

‘The Outfit’
Director: Graham Moore
Stars: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Johnny Flynn, Dylan O’Brien, Simon Russell Beale
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Release Date: March 18, 2022
Rating: 5 out of 5

Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has provided film content to over 30 print and online media outlets. He co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017 and is a weekly contributor to the Shannon Burke Show on FloridaManRadio.com. Since 1995, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film-related articles. He favors dark comedy, thrillers, and documentaries.
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