Just as it’s the clothes that make the man, the script is definitely what makes a movie. Graham Moore’s feature directing debut, The Outfit, is a quietly intense gangster film, as perfect for its star Mark Rylance than a perfectly-tailored suit. While the 1950s Chicago setting suggests a lot of sawed-off gunplay of the mobster variety, it’s a actually a nifty little thriller where words kill just as violently as any bullet.
Rylance’s muted disposition comes in handy as Savile Row-trained tailor Leonard, who has fled England under a cloud of mystery, only to set up shop in Chicago stitching together classy outfits and not the dreaded blue jeans he hates so much. It’s a modest shop, one of those places that attracts high-end clientele but little else. It stays open not only because of Leonard’s skill, but because he’s friends with Roy (Simon Russell Beale), the head of the Boyle crime family, who keep a drop box in the back of the store. Leonardo doesn’t care about any of that. He keeps his mouth shut and looks the other way. His assistant Mable (Zoey Deutch), not so much. She’s got big dreams and a reckless streak, but she’s also smart.
All seems well until the mob boss’s pushy son Richie (Dylan O’Brien) is brought into the shop with a gunshot wound sustained by a rival gang. He’s accompaned by Francis (Johnny Flynn), Roy’s trigger-happy enforcer. The stakes are raised, Leonard uses his needlework to sew up the bleeding criminal, while the revelation of a mole within the organization, and the discovery of a tape that could real him, draws the tailor further into their world than he’d like.
Moore, who won an Oscar for his The Imitation Game script, keeps the action centered in the tailor shop, which keeps the tension contained like a pressure cooker. You’d never know it from Rylance’s performance, however. The Oscar-winning actor is like a zen master, showing such calm that it makes you wonder what’s going on in that brain of his. In the case of Leonard, there are definitely irons in the fire. This is one of those films where every line of dialogue has worth. Leonard is literally staring death in the face for much of the film, and saying the wrong thing or trying to play the wrong person could be the end for him and Mable.
That’s what keeps The Outfit so compelling throughout. Leonard is left with a lot of balls juggling in the air, and it seems like every few minutes somebody comes in and changes the rules. Leonard is contantly on his feet, playing this person against that person, telling this small fib here, this kernal of truth there, and all without drawing enough suspicion that someone might want to put a bullet in his head and get blood all over those fine suits. As Moore repeatedly amps up the stakes, it does stretch the bounds of believability after a while, but Rylance’s performance is so good that you’re down for all of it. He just exudes this air of reason and peace that you don’t notice how cunning he is. His Leonard is a survivor, and he’s lasted as long as he has by not being obvious.
In a sense, The Outfit is a lot like Leonard. I fear it’s one of those unassuming films that people will overlook and never know that they’re missing one of the best, well-designed thrillers to come out in quite some time.
The Outfit opens in theaters on March 18th.