THE OUTFIT Movie Poster | ©2022 Focus Features

THE OUTFIT Movie Poster | ©2022 Focus Features

Rating: R
Stars: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, Johnny Flynn, Simon Russell Beale, Nikki Amuka-Bird
Writers: Johnathan McClain & Graham Moore
Director: Graham Moore
Distributor: Focus Features
Release Date: March 18, 2022

THE OUTFIT has a title with at least two meanings (if not more). One is a reference to the shadowy criminal organization that looms large in the background here. The other is an actual outfit, i.e., a man’s suit.

We’re in 1956 Chicago. Presumably, we know we’re in for a thriller. We are introduced via voiceover to gentlemen’s suit-maker Leonard (Mark Rylance); he is a cutter and not a tailor, as he’ll tell anyone whether they’ve asked or not. As we watch Leonard quietly work at his craft, he narrates details of his profession.

This speech is largely about character, but it should have resonance for anyone who designs real-world clothing or costumes for performers. Who is the person who will wear it? How do they see themselves? Are they happy with what they are doing, or are they looking to get ahead in the world? The costumes for THE OUTFIT are in reality designed by Sophie O’Neill and Zac Posen, which embody Leonard’s philosophy of apparel.

All of this tells us before we get started properly that Leonard is someone who notices things. He pretends not to be, of course, with some of his best customers, as they are mobsters who’d rather their dealings remain secret. Since Leonard is English, and makes clothing, the mobsters see him as an eccentric, one so harmless that they’re comfortable having a mail drop in his workshop.

Leonard’s assistant Mable (Zoey Deutch) is forthright in her desire to leave Chicago for somewhere more picturesque. She collects snow globes containing images of Paris and London. Leonard has a fatherly, protective streak toward Mable. While Mable declares her independence, she is daughterly enough to lie about having a boyfriend.

One snowy night, Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and Francis (Johnny Flynn) come into Leonard’s shop. Francis has a briefcase, and Richie has been shot. Richie is the son of mob boss and premier suit customer Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale). Francis is not of Boyle blood, but he’s Roy’s right-hand man. The rivalry between Richie and Francis is obvious to even those far less observant than Leonard.

Richie needs to be stitched up, despite his protests to the contrary. Francis needs somewhere to stash Richie and the precious briefcase while he gets the big boss.

THE OUTFIT Movie Poster | ©2022 Focus Features

THE OUTFIT Movie Poster | ©2022 Focus Features

The situation escalates dangerously from here.

Director Graham Moore and his co-writer Johnathan McClain are both American and THE OUTFIT is set in Chicago. However, the film was not only actually made in England, it also shares a sensibility with a certain type of British thriller. It is deadly serious on the surface, but there’s a sense of playfulness in its twists and turns.

As the lies and violence pile up, there’s almost a hint of farce. Rylance, who is extremely deft in all he does here, keeps us swerving right along with Leonard. Outwardly, Leonard is precise, reserved, and deferential to his customers and their associates. As we learn over the course of THE OUTFIT, under that dry surface is an extraordinarily quick mind, and a current of deep feeling.

The supporting cast is fine, with Beale first among equals as the mostly soft-spoken mob boss. O’Brien, so often cast as heroic leads, has a lot of fun with Richie’s tunnel-visioned self-regard. Flynn gives us a made man who has mastered innuendo and tries hard to avoid showing his temper. Deutch has a flair for the period, showing ‘50s-esque spunkiness.

THE OUTFIT has lovely production value and helps us forget we’re watching a movie as tailored to COVID precautions as Leonard’s suits are to his customers. The film has a limited cast and only leaves the confines of the shop to step onto the street right outside.

Part of what makes THE OUTFIT so impressive is that the filmmakers never make us want to be somewhere else; we can tell we’re right where the action is. We’re engaged and entertained, and kept guessing all the while.

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