by George Wolf
The opening minutes of The Outfit give us a master tailor named Leonard (Mark Rylance) describing his process. We see him measuring fabric, cutting and sewing while he outlines his skill in sizing up customers to give them what they most deserve.
Wait..is he still talking about suits?
Maybe, maybe not.
The setting is Chicago in 1956, where Leonard and his dreaming-of-a-better-life secretary Mable (Zoey Deutch) conduct business while local mobsters use Leonard’s shop to retrieve messages from a nationwide crime syndicate known as the Outfit.
One night after a shootout with a rival mob, gangsters Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and Francis (Johnny Flynn) barge into the shop in need of help and refuge. Richie, the son of local boss Roy (Simon Russel Beale) has been shot, and soon most everyone involved will have to fight to survive the long night.
Oscar-winning screenwriter Graham Moore (The Imitation Game) adds directing duties this time as well, for a nifty big screen debut that often homages early Kubrick and classic Hitchcock.
Essentially a two-room chamber piece, the film leans on a terrific ensemble to roll out a steady stream of delicious twists, relishing the nimble noir wordplay and skillfully keeping Moore’s sleight-of-hand from tipping its hand too early.
Fellow Oscar-winner Rylance (Bridge of Spies) is the perfect choice to bring Leonard to life, displaying a seemingly casual excellence right in line with who Leonard seems to be. Will underestimating the quiet shopkeeper prove to be a deadly mistake? Or is it Leonard who will learn a painful lesson tonight?
Rylance peels back the layers slowly, and Moore has good instincts for the pacing that allows for maximum fun. Deutch proves again that she’s a natural, making the most of a more limited role that still boasts an impressive ratio of secrets-to-screen time.
Despite getting a little too cute for the room come finale time, The Outfit is a solid directing debut for an acclaimed screenwriter. And while you can’t help feeling that this salute to the brainy introvert may be a personal one for Moore, it’s artful and engaging enough to rope in anyone who loves untangling a well-fitted suit of clues.