An unassuming master tailor must outwit the local mob in The Outfit.
On a dark, chilly Chicago evening in the winter of 1956, Leonard (Mark Rylance) is hard at work at the back of his upscale men’s shop. He and his starry-eyed receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch) cater to customers looking for the finest in handcrafted men’s couture. Among their best-paying clientele are several well-dressed members of the local neighborhood mafia who’ve “convinced” Leonard to let them use his shop as a stash house. Their impromptu partnership keeps the quiet, reserved shopkeeper in a state of continual anxiety, and he wants out. Tonight may be the chance that he’s been waiting for, or it may just turn out to be his last.
If you ever wanted to know what a play on film feels like, this would be the perfect example, except for the fact that it was never a play. First-time director and cowriter Graham Moore offers a taut crime drama that squeezes every ounce of ambience from its seemingly limited surroundings. The entire film takes place at Leonard’s store, mainly in its hyper-immersive back room. I believe that there are, in total, nine characters with the focus heavily weighted toward just five key players. You get to know them all quite well by the end.
At the helm is Rylance, who turns in another remarkable performance. You can sense every measured emotion that his put-upon character experiences, no matter how big or small. His work, combined with the stunning set pieces, envelops you fully in the claustrophobic world that Moore wants you to inhabit. The look and feel keep you front and center on everything that transpires. Every new character adds to the story’s embrace. You can smell the fabrics, the chalk and the polish on the varied wood surfaces. You also feel the coldness of Leonard’s beloved steel sheers. It reminded me, quite often, of Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1948 psychological masterpiece Rope. Small praise? I think not.
This is not your typical shoot-’em-up mobster tale. Nearly all of the tension comes from the characters’ ever-deepening conversations. Each new statement brings with it another layer that takes you further down the path of no return. It’s a trail that you’re giddy to traverse along with the characters. You want more, and the story is happy to oblige.
The singular hurdle keeping this from being a five-star film is that Moore pushed the story just a bit past the breaking point by going one scene too far. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but it did feel unnecessary and out of touch with the rest of the material. This minor misstep aside, I’ll be looking forward to Moore’s next project with much anticipation. You should, too, but only after you’ve spent a night with Leonard and the rest of his colorful associates.