Don’t believe what you read from the customer reviews when renting a movie. Unless they say over and over that the movie is boring because it’s all talk and no action. Except if you want all your movies to be mindless action fests like the Marvel movies. Those are fun, but watching only those are like eating only candy and never any real food. Sometimes (or possibly more often) you want to take in something with more meat, or in the case of The Outfit, more talk in your gangster movie. Then the reviews help.
If you’re hip and cool you know that gangster gangs prefer to be called the Outfit. Maybe they think it makes them sound more corporate. But if you’re not quite so hip and cool you might think of an outfit as a bit of clothing, like a midriff top and capri pants. Wearing that would give a casual observer a bit of insight into your personality. Men who pay a lot of money to be clothed by a top notch professional suit maker expect to be observed as someone important. Maybe someone corporate.
In the mid 1950s in Chicago, just such a cutter – not a tailor – exists. Leonard (Mark Rylance, Don’t Look Up, Ready Player One) has relocated from Savoy Row in London, a place famous for its exquisite and expensive suits, to Chicago. In a quiet voice over opening, he explains that a suit is two pieces of clothing, but it takes 4 fabrics, made into 38 pieces, conjoined by a closely fitted 228 steps into a powerful piece of clothing. He is meticulous, but also, “You cannot make something good, until you understand who you’re making it for.” While he is cutting together a suit and explaining this to the viewer, we also see some men who are obviously gangsters come into the shop, walk boldly into his cutting room inner sanctum, show him out with a glance and then either drop off an envelope into a waiting box, or open the box and take out the contents. Some of the envelopes are marked with a glyph. We find out the glyph denotes a mole in the outfit running Leonard’s area.
Leonard’s secretary Mable (Joey Deutch, the Politician, Zombieland: Double Tap) likes her boss well enough, but she considers him stodgy and boring, not like the exciting young men who come into the shop to root around the envelope box. She’s “secretly” dating one of them, Richie (Dylan O’Brien) the boss’s son and ignoring the rolling eyed glances of his bodyguard Francis (Johnny Flynn). One night the two men come in looking for some serious help from the meek and subservient Leonard. Things get messy. Suits are roughed up. There is a lot of loaded dialogue.
This movie really surprised me. Yes, the reviewers were right that there is a lot of talk. A lot. But it’s all meaningful and once you reflect on it and after the credits start to roll you realize just how meaningful. Leonard learns a lot about the gangsters who suddenly require a large and dangerous effort from him, and he uses that knowledge like he would from the measure of a suit. Yes, there is violence and blood, but it is all contained within Leonard’s shop. The entire movie happens in the three rooms of Leonard’s shop, which makes it very much resemble a stage play. Like a well done play, the size of the stage has no bearing on the amount of suspense that can be had. There was one misdirect in particular that made me laugh out loud when I realize it was a total red herring. I kept waiting for it to amount to something and when it didn’t I appreciated the well done deception. Both the writing and direction got two big thumbs up in my notes when a GLANCE from Mable said about three different important things in the plot.
The movie is very well written, with a lot of hidden depths that are revealed at a good pace. The acting is almost entirely great, the exception being the actor who played Richie’s dad. He was only good. Richie’s bodyguard Francis reminded me quite a bit of a young Matt Damon. I loved the identity of the rival gangster, La Fontaine. You have to watch the movie to understand that, because it’s not exactly a spoiler but a really cool casting choice. I don’t want to ruin your viewing pleasure. The art direction gives the shop the warm feeling of an industrious master crafter, and the score (Alexandre Desplat) is understated but powerful.
I highly recommend this film if you’re looking for subtle genius with the occasional violent outburst. Everything works really well, all of it put together with expert precision. Kinda like a bespoke suit.