' ' Cinema Romantico: The Outfit

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Outfit

As “The Outfit” opens, English cutter Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) enters his Chicago bespoke suit shop in the early hours of a 1956 morning and goes to work at his table in back. His receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch) enters and exits, but Leonard doesn’t look up. Grim mobsters in topcoats and fedoras walk past him to a lockbox in back, depositing packages, removing packages, but Leonard bats not an eye. It’s only when one of these mobsters, Richie Boyle (Dylan O’Brien), less grim than the others, perhaps because he’s the son of the boss, playfully smacks Leonard on the shoulder while cracking a joke that the English cutter has his working trance broken and looks up. Don’t presume, though, that Leonard has not been paying attention. Still waters run deep, as they say, and rarely have still waters run deeper than Mark Rylance in “The Outfit”, a knotty crime chamber piece directed by Graham Moore. Though Moore and his co-writer and Johnathon McClain can’t help but deploy one twist too many, while also negating the power of one of their niftiest twist by having set themselves a chamber piece obstacle in the first place, Rylance is so convincing throughout that he might just convince you of that surplus twist too. 

Leonard’s carefully crafted existence begins to implode when a wounded Richie is brought to the shop late one night by his colleague Francis (Johnny Flynn) after a confrontation with the rival LaFontaine crime family goes wrong. Francis forces Leonard to stow a briefcase with a FBI recording purporting to identify a rat in Boyle’s organization, the object and the question that will drive the remainder of the movie as various characters come and go, including Mable, who is dating Richie on the sly, and the biggest Boyle, Roy (Simon Russell Beale), as loyal to Leonard as he seems to be to his own flesh and blood. Who will wind up with the briefcase? Who is the rat? All this unspools over the course of a single night and entirely within Leonard’s shop, the opening sequence as he walks from front to back laying out the scene for the subsequent 106 minutes. To Moore’s credit, he evades any sense of staginess, and even eschews claustrophobia. It’s not just that he switches scenes between the shop’s front and back but that he provides a sense of breathing room all while favoring long shots that not only show the whole space but tend to include all the characters, most notably Leonard, who anchors nearly every moment he’s in even when he’s not the focal point, Rylance’s eyes always wary and thinking. After an apparent ruse to get Francis out of the shop fails, meaning Francis returns to the back room from the front, the camera simply contemplates Leonard in a medium long shot, where the actor’s countenance of readiness for what may come mesmerizes. 

There is, however, a downside to this limited locale, dampening the power of a late movie turn by Nikki Amuka-Bird as Violet LaFontaine, head of Boyle’s rival criminal outfit. She gets a monologue about herself and other immigrants, like Leonard himself, being underestimated by the mobsters on the block who would seek to impose their will. The words are moving, and so is Amuka-Bird’s delivery, though the deliberate lack of world-building leading up to it also causes the moment to suffer contextually. Without seeing the world she’s describing, save for this lone shop in which we spend all our time, it can’t help but reduce her monologue to a delivery device of theme rather than the righteous excoriation on behalf of immigrants everywhere it yearns to be. Indeed, at one point Leonard explains that cutting is a craft, not an art, and Violet’s speech comes across like a minor breakdown in craftsmanship that, in turn, causes the overall art to suffer.

It’s clear Moore wants us to feel the potent metaphor of a suit and how “The Outfit” itself is meant to go together like one Leonard’s creations. Mable’s emergent dreams of seeing the world, however, along with little details such as an uber-timely phone call and Leonard’s shears, referenced so frequently you know precisely the moment when they are about to be summoned for bloody effect, mean that dramatic elements conspicuously stick out as dramatic elements rather than elements properly dramatized. Even so, at the center of all this stands the cutter, Leonard, Rylance, who is giving an A+ plus performance that never ever tips its hand as to whether playing dumb or playing everyone for fools, the mystery that truly drives “The Outfit.” Indeed, there are moments here when like characters in the film, I was trying to size him up, to see if I could call his bluff. Finally, I had to fold. 

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