It’s no exaggeration to say that every possible crime story has been committed to film over the last 100 years. Murder, kidnapping, robbery, mob activity, and more are irresistible for storytellers, as the heinous acts are vehicles on which they can lay all manner of social, political, and moral quandaries.
The new film The Outfit uses that filmmaking history to its advantage, telling a story that has familiar elements but with just enough twists to keep it interesting. The unconventional lead of the film is Leonard (Mark Rylance), a tailor — or as he prefers to be called, cutter — in 1950s Chicago whose shop is frequented by members of rival mobs.
Leonard seems to turn a blind eye to the business dealings of the mob members, including Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and Francis (Johnny Flynn), who use a dropbox in the shop as a means of communication. That is, until Richie is brought in with a gunshot wound in his stomach one night, and Leonard and his receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch) can’t help but get caught up in the drama of a mob turf war.
Written and directed by Graham Moore and co-written by Johnathan McClain, the film could have just as easily been a play instead of a movie, as it all takes place in two rooms of Leonard’s shop. Characters come and go, but all of the action takes place in the relatively small spaces, keeping the tension high throughout. The movie never feels overly claustrophobic, though, as Moore does a great job of moving the characters around, never letting them settle in one place for too long.
The exception to that rule is Leonard, played with a preternatural calm by Rylance. For most of the film, it appears as if Leonard is a reluctant go-between for the criminals, perhaps offering up his space in order to avoid situations exactly like the one that takes place in the film. Leonard keeps his wits about him even while others lose their cool, a personality trait that pays big dividends as the story goes along.
Setting a crime movie in the shop of a bespoke suitmaker who used to work on Savile Row calls to mind the Kingsman films, but this film has a much different tone to it. Instead of over-the-top action and a jokey script, the filmmakers employ carefully plotted scenes and sharp dialogue to execute their vision. But the film is far from stuffy; it crackles with energy for most of its running time, albeit a type of energy that’s on simmer instead of boil.
Rylance has a unique presence about him that makes him perfect for the role. His career has been in overdrive since winning the Oscar for 2015’s Bridge of Spies, giving the 62-year-old a well-deserved late career jolt. Deutch is on the opposite end of the spectrum, having started making movies just 10 years ago, but she makes the most of her relatively small role. O’Brien and Flynn are saddled with stereotypical accents, but they each push through that to turn in effective performances.
The Outfit, a clever title with a double meaning, is a crime film where most of the crime takes place off screen. But the dialogue and direction of Moore and the subtle-yet-powerful acting of Rylance make it a riveting experience nonetheless, proving that — at least in movies — crime does pay.
The Outfit opens in theaters on March 18.