The Outfit, 2022.
Directed by Graham Moore.
Starring Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, Johnny Flynn, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Simon Russell Beale, and Alan Mehdizadeh.
An expert tailor must outwit a dangerous group of mobsters in order to survive a fateful night.
The Outfit is a twisty one-location blast that doesn’t know when to stop flipping the script. Still, it also benefits from a sly ensemble led by Mark Rylance as a master tailor (or cutter, as he prefers) named Leonard running a corner shop in 1950s Chicago where his most valuable customers happen to be members of the mob (Dylan O’Brien and Johnny Flynn) that also use his workstation PO Box for business.
Fleeing his London homeland after World War II, Leonard doesn’t have much choice to accept the gangster’s business and money, even if there is the likelihood of inviting danger. Early on, there’s a sad but true statement about how such mom-and-pop businesses don’t always have the luxury of turning away customers that they are at odds with morally, something that still rings true today. Leonard is also complacent about his current situation, aware that if his relationship with these mobsters doesn’t turn south and get him whacked, his days are still naturally numbered. Looking to do some good before old age or criminals put him six feet under, he does take an interest in looking out for his receptionist Mable (an underutilized but effective Zoey Deutch), ambitious to get away from Chicago and traveled the world, but also taking a dangerous liking to mobster Richie (Dylan O’Brien) that she denies when confronted about it.
It also turns out that Richie and Francis (Johnny Flynn) are dealing with a rat and have acquired a copy of a cassette tape containing various conversations that should answer several of their questions, such as what location is bugged and who is aiding the FBI in this eavesdropping. Leonard also realizes that none of this bodes well for himself and Mable, choosing to apply his intelligence and craft to turn the mobsters against one another. The story is also a perfect vehicle for Mark Rylance to deliver a cunning performance underneath a façade of cluelessness, often with voiceover narration drawing parallels to the world of tailoring.
Much of the suspense in The Outfit comes from its unpredictability factor (although the rat’s identity is simple enough to figure out), as some characters die and others walk into a game of deception, not constantly aware of the ongoing chaos. It’s a seemingly never-ending night of psychological trickery and desperately trying to keep others in the dark about what they don’t yet know.
Without spoiling the essential details, one additional supporting character is a Black mobster named Lafontaine (Nikki Amuka-Bird) trying to maintain her turf and operations. And while her presence isn’t lengthy, there is some admirable motivation watching her ferociously go to war and defend her territory that’s only wanted because someone with her skin color ended up making something of themselves in the criminal empire space. There is a desire to see her character further fleshed out, just as there is for Mable. The latter disappears throughout the middle, which maintains the tension inside the tailor shop and one-location premise but also frustratingly limits her characterization. Most of this is forgivable considering this is Leonard’s story and an undeniably thrilling watch, but there also comes a point when co-writer and director Graham Moore (the Oscar-winning screenwriter behind The Imitation Game, here working alongside Jonathan McClain) jump the shark regarding his past in a manner that confusingly redefines everything up until that point.
Before the final 10 minutes, I was fully prepared to give The Outfit 4 stars across the board, and then I witnessed the baffling ending. Nonetheless, it’s filled with riveting work from its small-scale ensemble (Dylan O’Brien and Johnny Flynn also shine as ruthless gangsters), a tensely quirky score from Alexandre Desplat, and some theatrically alive direction from Graham Moore. The Outfit might not be ideally suited for every one of its twists, which in a way almost feels fitting considering a late speech about the quest for perfection and inevitable failure. However, it is explosively fun viewing.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com