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“The Outfit” Feels Like a BBC Version of Reservoir Dogs (Review)

Image courtesy of Focus Features

The Outfit stars the great Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, Don’t Look Up) as a cutter – absolutely not a tailor as his character Leonard informs us in precise, crisp voiceover – who crafts high end elegant men’s suits for his clientele. As the owner of a bespoke men’s shop in 1956’s Chicago it should come as no surprise that some of his most frequent customers are members of the mob. And so Graham Moore (The Imitation Film) tells the story of one very eventful night in this cutter’s life.

This entire film rests on the shoulder of Mark Rylance. Rylance plays the part with a studious introspection, bordering on a social disorder. He is particular and obsessive – an early scene wonderfully demonstrates his particularities as he folds handkerchiefs with his shopgirl, played by the ever wonderful Zoey Deutch (Buffaloed). Each crease of Leonard’s handkerchiefs’ is precise and exacting; Deutch’s are slightly disheveled and a bit off kilter. It’s an easy, effective metaphor for each character’s caution and focus.

Image courtesy of Focus Features

It’s fast revealed that Leonard’s shop holds a very particular mailbox in the back of the story – a drop site for a few young local mobsters played by Dylan O’Brien (Love and Monsters) and Johnny Flynn (Emma.). Soon an attempted hit on one of the mobsters brings chaos down upon a Leonard’s shop as he’s forced to care for the wounded wise guy. Rylance’s performance evolves as the film kicks into higher gear. Soon a somewhat more playful side arises in Rylance’s exacting performance as the mob violence around him increases. It’s apparent our cutter is a bit more than he seemed.

Rylance is on screen for nearly every moment of the film, and he makes the absolute most of it. Moore wisely gives Rylance the space and time to allow the precision and movement of his character to speak volumes. Seeing Leonard cut a suit, when played by Rylance, gives the viewer a deeper understanding of the level of obsessiveness and focus that define the character. Traits that will, of course, come into play as the story progresses.

Image courtesy of Focus Features

The film is the rare beneficiary of a COVID production. The story is set entirely almost entirely in Leonard’s store, and generally with only a very small number of actors in each scene. The gradually increasing tension of the mob story actually benefits from the trapped environment. As Leonard is unable to leave his workplace, his capture becomes the audience’s. A film without these practical hassles may have felt tempted to leave Leonard’s shop, and deprive the audience of some of the film’s masterful tension.

Graham Moore’s direction here is extremely precise with an edit that feels both indulgent and sharp, like a great suit. Cuts are allowed time to breathe, but each one tends to move very precisely between images. It’s editing emulating character and it’s extremely effective. The film is gorgeously lensed by Dick Pope (Motherless Brooklyn) and benefits immensely from a playful score by the great Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water). The cast of supporting performers – Deutch, O’Brien, Flynn, Simon Russell Beale (The Death of Stalin), and Nikki Amuka-Bird (Old) – are all able to hold their own against Rylance.

Image courtesy of Focus Features

This is a film I feel the need to write about with great caution. A good deal of the film’s fun comes from the gradual unraveling of the plot threads. It’s a twisty, almost shockingly exciting story and I think it will benefit greatly from going in cold. I told a friend that the film reminded me of a BBC version of Reservoir Dogs and I still think the comparison holds true. I’d also recommend seeing the film in a theater. The film is extremely precise and rewarding in tone and mood; I worry those things may be lost in a home viewing.

Image courtesy of Focus Features

The Outfit will be released in theaters on March 18.