The Outfit is a movie we don’t get much of anymore. It’s small. In scope, cast, and aim. Entirely set within one building, three rooms, the action plays out over a tense night in 1950s Chicago. No flashy special effects, no overly complicated plots, lore, or worldbuilding. Just a straight down the middle tense gangster-adjacent flick.
Writer/director Graham Moore’s directorial debut (he’s already won an Academy Award for writing the screenplay to The Imitation Game) has jazzy, rhythmic confidence.
English cutter (don’t call him a tailor!) Leonard (Mark Rylance) is a craftsman through and through. As his opening narration details, a suit is made up of parts, and those are made up of dozens of other pieces. And so on and so forth. His shop is a spot for drops for a local crime family, most of his customer’s gangsters on the rise. But Leonard keeps his head down, his nose out of trouble, and just focuses on the work. That changes when the crime family starts getting drops from The Outfit, the countrywide crime network. Then violence in the streets takes off, fears of a rat take over, and no one is sure who to trust, who is on the level, and who has something more to hide. Leonard ends up stuck in his shop with angry gangsters ready for blood. How will he get out of this?
The characters are few: Mark Rylance as Leonard, whose murmuring performance warms your heart to this mild-mannered craftsman, as well as Zoey Deutch as Mable Shaun, Dylan O’Brien as Richie Boyle, Johnny Flynn as Francis, Simon Russell Beale as Roy Boyle. And that’s basically it. We spend 90% of the movie with some combination of the three of those actors, and that’s where the movie really sings. It’s very much a dialogue-driven film and it all comes down to these performances.
The scope is so focused – these three rooms, these half dozen people – the tension is high. Each scene plays out like a game of improv – there are three characters and one needs to get talked into leaving this room. Who will convince who to leave? Why? What do they have on the other one? In each scene new layers are peeled back, stories are retold with new meaning to new characters for new purposes. The scene breaks, the current threat handled, only for a new one to come knocking on the door. So it goes for its hour and forty-six-minute runtime, with twists and turns, some tropeish, some weak, but some that are actually good additions.
The Outfit is a tight, confident little movie focused on dialogue, on performances. It’s the exact kind of movie people are afraid are dying. The Outfit is more proof they should stick around.
The Outfit is now in theaters!