To be frank with you, it is not that easy to describe how much I enjoyed “The Outfit”, a small but undeniably dexterous thriller film which engaged me much more than expected. Because of many of its pleasures come from how it springs out one surprise after another along its seemingly straightforward narrative, I will try as much as possible for not telling you too much about its story and characters, but I strongly advise you not to read the following paragraphs if you really want to be entertained as much as possible.
At the beginning, the movie, which is set in Chicago, 1956, immerses us into a little but meticulous professional world inhabited by a middle-aged British cutter named Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance). Some years ago, Leonard moved to Chicago for some reason, and he has run a fairly successful shop in one neighborhood of Chicago, and there is a little criminal secret hidden behind his supposedly respectable clothing business. As a matter of fact, he has been associated with a local criminal organization, and his shop has often functioned as a stash house for that criminal organization. All he has to do is focusing on his work without paying attention to those daily criminal transactions inside his shop at all, and he has been quite content with that as long as he does not get involved in that too much.
Nevertheless, Leonard still sees and observes lots of things while he works as usual, and there comes a little discovery which may disrupt his small world. At one night, he accidentally finds out that Mable (Zoey Deutch), a young female clerk who has worked under him for a while, has been in a relationship with someone very close to the boss of that criminal organization, but he is not so surprised at all, and he simply maintains his professional composure in front of Mable as before. After all, this pretty lass has been so eager to get out of Chicago by any means necessary, and he clearly understands that.
However, that little matter is nothing compared to what happens next not long after that. When Leonard is about to end his another mundane working day and then close the shop, two members of that criminal organization suddenly come into the shop for a very urgent matter. One of them is seriously wounded due to gunshot, and Leonard is forced to do an emergency surgery on that wounded guy even though he is not qualified to do that to say the least.
Once he does the surgery as demanded, Leonard is told about what is going on outside. It has been suspected that there is an FBI informer working in that criminal organization, and a certain small object which will reveal the identity of that informer in question was subsequently obtained thanks to a powerful nationwide criminal syndicate, but there is one big problem. That object is wanted by not only that criminal organization but also its rivaling criminal organization, and that is how those two gang members were attacked not long after obtaining that object.
Anyway, things seem to be under control as that object is safely stored in Leonard’s shop for now, but, not so surprisingly, the circumstance takes a number of unexpected turns, and Leonard must tread carefully around those dangerous people associated with him. While it is gradually revealed that he holds some cards behind his back, what is being at stake for him and others is increased minute by minute, and it goes without saying that this can be his last night if he is not very careful at any point.
While most of its plot is unfolded mainly within Leonard’s shop, the movie never feels stuffy at all as slowly dialing up the level of tension under the confident direction of director/co-writer Graham Moore, who previously won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for “The Imitation Game” (2014). Thanks to production designer Gemma Jackson and costume designers Sophie O’Neill and Zac Posen, the movie is packed with nice details to be appreciated, and cinematographer Dick Pope did a solid job of establishing the good period atmosphere on the screen. The editing by William Goldenberg is precise and succinct as steadily maintaining the narrative pacing of the film, and Alexander Desplat’s score adds extra tension to the screen whenever that is necessary.
Above all, the movie is firmly anchored by another superlative performance from Mark Rylance, a British actor who has been quite more prominent since his Oscar-winning breakthrough turn in “Bridge of Spies” (2015). As a stealthy master of understatement, Rylance slowly holds our attention as discreetly doling out nuances to notice, and he is quite compelling even when his character does not seem to signify anything to us. In the other words, this is another excellent work to be added to Rylance’s long and illustrious acting career, and that is more than enough for me to forget how much he was woefully wasted in “Don’t Look Up” (2021).
In case of several notable performers including Johnny Flynn, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, Nikki Amuka-Bird, and Simon Russell Beale, they have each own moment to shine while supporting Rylance as well as required. Beale, who drew my attention for the first time via his solid supporting turn in “The Deep Blue Sea” (2011), effortlessly exudes his character’s menace, and Deutch holds her own small place well during her several tricky scenes in the film.
Overall, “The Outfit” is one of the better genre films of this year besides being a commendable feature film debut by its director. Although it is rather modest on the surface, it is one of those well-made thrillers to be admired for mood, storytelling, and performance, and I am willing to revisit it someday just for entertainment.