Mark Rylance is a national treasure. He delivers an astounding performance as a tailor - no a "cutter" - in the surprisingly effective gangster drama, "The Outfit." It's a clever play on words representing not only the main character's profession, but the slang descriptive title of the underground, organized crime syndicate that formed all over America in the mid-20th century.
It features a great ensemble, led by Rylance, and is easily one of the best films of the year thus far, even if its third act prevents it from achieving greatness.
The entirety of the film takes place inside of a tailor's suit shop, in 1950s Chicago. Leonard (Rylance) is a meticulous, patient professional, dedicated to his craft (his character reminded me of something my grandfather always used to say, which was it doesn't matter WHAT you do in life, but whatever you do, make sure to be the BEST at it). In voice-over, Leonard explains to us that a suit is not simply some pieces of cloth, woven together, but in fact there is so much more that meets the eye. Leonard might not just be talking about suits, as this is a fair description of the movie, and of Leonard himself.
The only person in his world is his secretary Mable (Zoey Deutch) and the several Chicago mobsters that frequent his place of business. Sure, they buy suits from Leonard, but it's that non-descript dropbox in the back room that really brings in the mob traffic. Leonard's business is a safe place for a local Irish gang to conduct transactions, and Leonard never even looks up or bats an eye at whatever it is these men are involved in. It seems like a perfect working relationship.
One mobster that frequents the place is the hot-headed Boss's son, Richie (Dylan O'Brien), who develops a relationship with Mable on the low-key. Something unexpected happens at the shop (I won't spoil that here), but it gets Richie's shady mob soldier Francis (Johnny Flynn) involved. Soon Leonard finds himself entangled in a feud between two gangs, with himself and Mable in the middle, where even the Boss himself (another wonderful character actor, "The Death of Stalin" alum, Simon Russell Beale) needs to step in.
Rylance's performance is so pitch-perfect, and set on simmer throughout. You can picture "The Outfit" as a stage-play because it just has a few rooms where the drama unfolds, and yet it feels very cinematic (helped out greatly by an involving score from two-time Oscar winning composer, Alexandre Desplat). Even the editing feels inspired, and released at a different time of year, "The Outfit" might be in the running for a few technical Oscar categories, not to mention Mark Rylance's performance. The claustrophobic feel of the shop is also completely the result of some amazing work from the Production Designer, Oscar-nominee Gemma Jackson ("Finding Neverland") who also won Emmys for her work on "Game of Thrones" and the HBO series "John Adams."
From Deutch to O'Brien, to Beale and even his humongous, gun-toting bodyguard (Alan Mehdizadeh), this is a stellar ensemble. But opposite Rylance, it's British actor Johnny Flynn who really leaves a lasting impression. He's an intimidating gangster, who matches brains with brawn, and a lesser performance from this character would have sank the film. Instead, Flynn elevates it.
"The Outfit," sadly, didn't know when to quit, and the spool begins to unravel a bit recklessly as it neared its conclusion. The mysteries of the story end up being worth the wait, but a double-and-triple-ending take away from the genius that precede it. There are some baffling things that happen down the stretch that go counter to the high-intelligence evident in some of the characters...you'll have to trust me on this, because to say anything more would be to spoil the surprises, in which there are several.
Otherwise, what a surprising gem of a film. "The Outfit" shows why Mark Rylance is one of the highest-demanded actors in Hollywood. First-time filmmaker Graham Moore may be one to watch, as building suspense and creating engaging cinema seems to suit him just fine.
Genre: Crime, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
Starring: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O'Brien, Johnny Flynn, Simon Russell Beale, Alan Mehdizadeh, Nikki Amuka-Bird.
Co-Written and Directed by Graham Moore (feature-film directorial debut).
"The Outfit" is in theaters on Friday, March 18th, 2022.
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