The Outfit


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Outfit
"The Outfit isn't doing anything new, but it does it all incredibly well." | Photo: courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

A single-location thriller, a period gangster piece, The Outfit is beautifully constructed and satisfying in its shape. It's anchored by another strong performance from Mark Rylance. He's scarcely off the screen as the events of an evening unfold.

Not just an evening, in truth, there's fabric enough in the weaving of this tale for it to double back on itself, to conceal, reveal, but nearly seamlessly. Shot in a set built within a theatre, this does at times feel a little stagey. Though perhaps not directly, more in the sense that one finds oneself trying to determine how an audience faced not with a screen but a curtain would be presented with proceedings.

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In voiceover, our protagonist, Leonard, "English", starts to explain how a suit is made. It will be explained a few times, but he is not a tailor, he is a cutter. A maker and user of patterns, and here there are plenty. Noirish and jazzy, it slides and slices along apace. There's a poster for this that seems of paper cut-outs and this is proper old-fashioned craft. I was reminded of a stack of films, enough to fill an alphabet, The Anderson Tapes, Bullitt, The Conversation, Driver, etcetera. I mention two with car chases though we never see a vehicle, just their lights reflected up to a skylight. That sense of pursuit, however, that headlong? It can be achieved with a v-neck as easily as with a v8.

In a small cast there are still plenty of familiar faces, Simon Russell Beale among them. Zoey Deutch, Dylan O'Brien, Johnny Flynn are the other major players, though not the only ones. Nikki Amuka-Bird has a small but vital role, though she is far from the only fount of intrigue. This is more convoluted than a pleated hem, knottier than a collection of ties, and all the better for it.

This is Graham Moore's début feature. He co-writes here having penned in adaptation for The Imitation Game. It's a début feature for co-writer Johnathan McClain who has a theatre background. That's perhaps reflected in the structure of the set, three rooms, a small stretch of pavement. Like The Humans, there are clear delineations, but liminal boundaries. Sliding doors are like staircases, they separate and connect simultaneously.

The characters too. There's a down the street we never see, a world outside Chicago that's trapped in snow globes. It's 1956, there's reference to the war ("not that one") to history. That voiceover is as old-fashioned, setting out structure. Measuring, drawing, pulling us in.

Alexandre DeSplat's score is breezy in places, heavy-handed in others. Ironing out the bumps in a story this complex isn't easy, but Dick Pope's lensing is shear-sharp. A necessity when so much of the acting is small, gesture and movement, not just lines but chalk-lines, not just marks but cons.

There's a lot of craft on display. Sophie O'Neill is no stranger to the Savile Row style, she's worked on two of the Kingsman films which headquarter their spy agency there. She's joined by Zac Posen, who has dressed many you'll have heard of. Gemma Jackson's production design means that the shop and its rooms feel a real place, even if it's effectively impossible to make tea properly in the Americas the space is right for it, facilitating business in every sense.

At an hour and three quarters it serves as a reminder that it's possible to tell an involving and satisfying story without padding. William Goldenberg has edited for Michael Mann and Michael Bay, but this is far more the concision of crisp crime and not the peroration of parallaxed product placement. In a film that makes a big distinction between being a cutter and being a tailor it seems fitting to highlight the craft that makes film magic.

The Outfit isn't doing anything new, but it does it all incredibly well. There's a discussion about how something properly done will always be stylish and this is absolutely the case here. It's showing at Glasgow's 2021 film festival and I was reminded of another that screened, The Lives Of Others. In each case a performance was central, everything around it shaped to that character. You have to pay attention as we are told the tale, or you will find yourself chafing at the restrictions of its setting. If you embrace it, however, it in turn will hold you snug, carry you with confidence. Twain, Erasmus, and Shakespeare variously observed in different forms that clothes make the man, here, simultaneously, the reverse is true, and all the stronger for it.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2022
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The Outfit packshot
An expert tailor must outwit a dangerous group of mobsters in order to survive a fateful night.

Director: Graham Moore

Writer: Johnathan McClain, Graham Moore

Starring: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O'Brien, Johnny Flynn,. Nikki Amuka-Bird

Year: 2022

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2022

Streaming on: Netflix

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