Review: Mark Rylance and gangster drama ‘The Outfit’ are well suited for one another
Leonard (Mark Rylance), the proprietor of the finest bespoke suit shop in 1956 Chicago, wants to make one thing very clear: He’s not a tailor, he’s a cutter. “Anyone with a needle and thread can call themselves a tailor,” he sniffs. No, Leonard trained for years on legendary Savile Row in London learning the art of cutting suits from fine cloth, and he wields his trusty old shears with the precision and confidence that comes from decades dedicated to his craft.
“The Outfit,” written by Johnathan McClain and Graham Moore, is the directorial debut of Moore, who won the adapted screenplay Oscar for “The Imitation Game.” It takes place entirely within the confines of Leonard’s shop, a cozy respite from the freezing, seemingly bullet-riddled Chicago streets. But gang warfare creeps beyond the threshold of L. Burling Bespoke, and the result is a twisty, blood-soaked chamber piece, a retro gangster noir as meticulously crafted as a fine custom suit.
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An immigrant from England, Leonard claims that he’s come to Chicago to ply his trade because he was under attack — from blue jeans. He’s slipped into this world of of Al Capone wannabes by submitting to their demands: There’s a secret letterbox in the back of his shop where the Irish mob sends and receives messages. It doesn’t arouse suspicion for men to come and go frequently from the suit shop, and gang leader Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale) has a taste for nice clothing and Leonard’s refined English manner: tea with biscuits and Oscar Wilde quotes.
But it’s Boyle’s arrogant son, Richie (Dylan O’Brien), who runs his errands. With his menacing compatriot Francis (Johnny Flynn) by his side, Richie shoots a few too many grins in the direction of Leonard’s receptionist, Mable (Zoey Deutch). One night, as Leonard’s working late, Richie and Francis burst through the door, Richie bleeding from a bullet in his gut. They have in their possession a recording from an FBI bug, and if only they can find something to play it on, they’ll discover who the rat might be. This is only the beginning of the gory drama that will play out in this space over the next couple of hours.
Portrayed with thoughtfulness and studied physicality by Oscar winner Rylance, one can’t shake the feeling that Leonard’s quiet, unassuming nature belies something much deeper below the surface. He’s just a bit too quick on his feet, and too clever with a lie, placating all sorts of suspicions as Richie, Francis and Roy cycle through, the situation becoming increasingly dangerous and wider in scope.
Set in the one location, and driven by the script and performances, “The Outfit” feels like a play, but what could have otherwise been a minimalist potboiler is elevated by the cast, especially Rylance, who delicately carries the tale and tone, offering subtlety and nuance to contrast the brutishness of the men around him. O’Brien, Flynn and Deutch are three of the finest young actors working today, and they play off Rylance’s Leonard with swagger (O’Brien), psychopathy (Flynn) and softness (Deutch).
Legendary cinematographer Dick Pope lenses the film with the kind of desaturated color palette that’s become de rigueur for a period piece, and there’s a warm, lamp-lit beauty and texture to the film’s style. Alexandre Desplat’s score is a bit aggressive at times, but it lends to the throwback 1950s appeal of the project. They don’t often make them like this anymore, a story cut, folded and stitched together with care. So “The Outfit” is worth slipping into and savoring.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Rated: R for some bloody violence, and language throughout
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Playing: Starts March 18 in general release
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