Sunday, September 24, 2023

Movie Review (Glasgow Film Festival): ‘The Outfit’ is a Well Tailored Stage Play in Movie Form

Director: Graham Moore

Writers: Johnathan McClain, Graham Moore

Stars: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien

Synopsis: An expert tailor must outwit a dangerous group of mobsters in order to survive a fateful night.


It feels perfectly fitting to cast Mark Rylance as the central protagonist of The Outfit, novelist Graham Moore’s debut feature. Rylance is a veteran of the stage – having starred in countless plays since the 80s – and is considered by some to be one of the greatest stage actors of his generation. He has also spoken frequently of his love for the stage, and his preference for stagecraft over filmcraft. 

Rylance, then, fits The Outfit like a well-tailored suit. Moore’s 50s gangster thriller is set entirely in one location and features the typical blocking and staging of any great theatre production. It is as intricately crafted as one of its protagonist’s suits and unravels in a satisfying way as it burns to its climax. It sometimes suffers a little from the show-don’t-tell problem, almost revelling in its own cleverness a little too much at times, but ultimately, Rylance anchors the whole thing with his crafty, sly performance. 

Leonard Burling (Rylance) is an Englishman living in Chicago in the 1950s. He is a ‘cutter’, trained on the famous Saville Row in London, and makes bespoke suits for his clients. His shop is also a drop point for the Irish mob, who come in and out every day to deliver letters. Burling stays as far out of this as possible; he’s a quiet, mild-mannered tailor who wants nothing to do with the shady life, preferring to focus on his fabrics. He worries for his assistant Mable (Zoey Deutch) whom he sees as a daughter and who has started a romantic relationship with Ritchie Boyle, hotheaded son of mob boss Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale). Burling has hopes that Mable will take over his shop for him one day when he retires, but Mable has plans to travel the world, and has a collection of snowglobes featuring historic landmarks from around the world as proof.

Burling’s situation with the mob has always walked a tightrope, but things change for the worse when Richie is shot by a rival mob and shows up at Burling’s shop to hide out. Ritchie’s right hand man Francis (Johnny Flynn) forces Burling to stitch up Ritchie’s wound before revealing that there is a rat – police informant – in their midst and he aims to find out who it is before the night is out.

From there The Outfit unfolds into a revolving door stage play, as characters come and go and developments occur off-screen. From its opening moments, The Outfit sets out its stall as a perfectly constructed story: the first scene features finely detailed craftsmanship as Burling creates his famous suits, with a voice over by Burling himself detailing all of the invisible intricacies which go into the craft itself. There is a pleasing symmetry between Burling’s craft and the craft of storytelling, as layers are stripped away throughout the movie to reveal the hidden detail underneath.

There are no simple answers in The Outfit. Each proposition: Who is the rat? Who is double-crossing who? Who will find out the truth first? They are all given a more complicated answer than you might think, as twists and turns catapult into the open.

Although he works within only two spaces throughout the whole movie – the front room of Burling’s shop and the back where he makes his suits – Moore manages to keep anything from getting boring. Cinematographer Dick Pope keeps everything fresh by ensuring each part of the shop that serves a function is highlighted in different ways, and these are teased throughout the runtime. A cabinet, a box, mundane items which inhabit the background are quickly brought into the fore, are given purpose, and seen differently than we might have noticed five minutes ago. Each frame is filled with tension as stand offs occur and rather than cut to close ups, the camera stays static on the scene, allowing it to breathe as the audience stops. Shifting glances quickly change focus and we’re then privy to a secret only one of the characters may know as we wait for the others to catch up. Elsewhere, Alexandre Desplat’s score is unsettling, with a tense, subtle trill underlying most scenes as the atmosphere ratchets up towards the crescendo. 

There are some moments which feel a little too cute, a little too convoluted. Some reveals – especially towards the end – stretch credulity just a little, but it’s to Rylance’s credit that he can carry these moments on his own and stop them from ruining the feeling of the film. He is clearly a world class actor and it shows in these moments; you feel The Outfit might not have been quite the same movie without him.

For a debut feature, The Outfit is confident, assured, and as well designed as one of Burling’s suits. If you can forgive some of the more silly developments and enjoy Rylance’s performance, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.


Grade – A


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