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The Outfit review: A stagey gangster drama with a well-tailored plot

“This isn’t art; this is a craft,” Leonard (Mark Rylance), the protagonist of crime drama The Outfit, says of his trade. Above all, he is meticulous in his work. Never refer to him as a tailor. He’s not simply a handyman who hems pants and reattaches buttons; he’s a textile surgeon, a needle and thread engineer. A well-cut suit is made up of 38 individual components. And Leonard believes that by putting those components together, he can determine a man’s size.

In recent months, we’ve seen more new movies with only one shot than films based in a single interior location. Graham Moore’s The outfit is a modest crime thriller that exemplifies both the benefits and drawbacks of such an approach. The Outfit, starring Mark Rylance as a moderately mobbed-up tailor, has the concentrated intensity of a stage production. It also has a tendency to use declarative language, which is unsettling in a film environment. If you point a pistol at someone, he’ll probably give you a three-minute lecture on motivations and morality. That’s what happens when you can’t get a clear shot of a speeding car in the distance.

By skipping a gigantic laser beam into the sky or Armageddon explosions in favour of the beauty of subtlety and quality, this film takes a big risk. As a result, it was captivating, and it will make you enjoy the film’s laid-back tone even more. Watch this movie if you have nothing else to do. It won’t be as fast-paced as normal, but the way the story unfolds is quite good.


Leonard set up shop in Chicago in 1956. If that’s the justification you want to believe, he argues that the surge in blue jeans drove him out of London’s Savile Row. The city’s criminals are one group of men still dedicated to the art of good dressing, and as a result, Leonard’s parlour has become a little crime refuge, with hidden notes left in drop boxes and the proprietor discreetly oiling his shears in the corner while looking the other way.

Richie (Dylan O’Brien), the ambitious son of one of the local bosses, Roy (Simon Russell Beale), arrives with his slithery friend Francis (Johnny Flynn) in tow one night. They’ve acquired compromising audio leading to the identification of a possible rat in their criminal gang in their briefcase.

In recent films, Rylance has taken the risk of playing a stock character: the softly spoken innocent who avoids eye contact in an attempt to remain self-contained. While there is some of that here, the actor also manages to tease unseen dangers throughout the film. He’s crouched over his work, but he’s as vigilant as a hungry cat that knows the supermarket delivery is coming. During a dramatic duologue with Simon Russell Beale – again, resolutely theatrical – he truly comes into his own. 

This film is a real pleasure to watch. The plot is incredibly intriguing, often suspenseful, and always surprising. The aesthetic is flawless, from the shots to the clothes to the set, and Mark Rylance’s acting is superb. If anything, the script is a little too well-crafted. All of the plot threads come together beautifully in a series of concluding convulsions that include one too many twists.

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