The Outfit

Directed by: Graham Moore
Distributed by: Focus Features

Written by Anna Harrison


There is something to be said for true craftsmanship. A proper suit cuts a certain silhouette that mass market reproductions can’t recreate, as Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) tells us in the opening voiceover to “The Outfit.” The same sentiment applies to acting: there’s a level of technical skill involved that only some actors can attain while the rest coast on talent without precision, which is all well and good until a performer like Rylance shows up and reminds us that acting, like cutting suits, is a craft. 

Leonard, a cutter (and don’t call him a tailor) in 1950s Chicago, came to America from Savile Row after World War II. The reason? “Blue jeans,” he gravely informs his assistant, Mable (Zoey Deutch). If there was anything else behind his departure, he remains tight-lipped about it, though Mable seems to be able to coax more out of him than most people. Leonard has found himself serving a set of clientele that encourages tight lips, though: gangsters, usually ones associated with the Boyle crime family such as heir apparent Richie Boyle (Dylan O’Brien) and the family’s right-hand man Francis (Johnny Flynn). Leonard remains silent as they use his shop as a waystation, dropping off messages to other gang members, but Mable likes to keep her eye on Richie even though Leonard warns her against it.

Then, when Richie and Francis stagger into the shop late one night, Leonard gets pulled into the game he thought he was successfully avoiding. His carefully constructed world slowly begins to unravel, but the movie only grows tighter. First time director Graham Moore, who won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Imitation Game” (and won the hearts of viewers with his acceptance speech), has a firm grip on tone, and he and cinematographer Dick Pope create some striking, purposeful visuals. The silent offer of a cigarette, the drip of blood onto the floor, snow globes sitting in the window—each handsomely crafted image carries a world of meaning, and so do the costumes from Sophie O’Neill and Zac Posen (yes, that Zac Posen). Leonard labors over each suit until it reaches perfection, and so “The Outfit” does its best to meet its protagonist’s exacting standards.

As the story upholds, other players flit in and out, each ratcheting up the tension in some way and Leonard gets drawn into the machinations of the Boyle family, and enacts some plots of his own (don’t count out Mable, either). The arrival of patriarch Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale) offers Rylance a chance to act opposite another titan of the industry, even if his face usually decorates theater marquees instead of movie posters. Watching Rylance and Beale bounce off each other is a sight to behold, every breath and eye twitch carrying layers and layers upon meaning; while everyone else is quite good, there is, again, something to be said for true craftsmanship. Even as the plot twists become so numerous that the whole thing threatens to fold in on itself, Rylance anchors the film, and it’s a more than solid debut for Moore.

“The Outfit” Trailer

“The Outfit” is playing in wide release.

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