What if Alfred Hitchcock directed a bottle episode of The Sopranos? You’d have the wickedly entertaining crime drama that is The Outfit. The experience of watching this film earns comparison to Hitchcock’s Rope. Both films occur in one place with a wooden chest playing an integral role. Although the premise seems tailormade for a play, The Outfit is executed with such flair that the setting rarely feels “limited.” At the same time, the script is so intense and tightly written that the walls practically close in on the characters.
While The Outfit has the class and paranoia of a Hitchcockian thriller, Hitchcock didn’t specialize in mobster movies. Hitchcock oddly never dived headfirst into the gangster genre, but you’d think it would’ve been right up his alley. This is where The Sopranos comparison comes in. Instead of Tony or Christopher, though, imagine if the story is told through the eyes of Artie, a civilian connected to the mob world. Of course, Mark Rylance’s Leonard is much craftier than Artie ever was. The Oscar-winning actor is perfectly suited to play Leonard, an English cutter living in Chicago. Leonard can’t stress enough that there’s a difference between cutters and tailors.
The soft-spoken Leonard makes a living crafting suits for the Windy City’s most lethal gangsters, although he tries not to ask questions. Leonard is given no choice one night when a young delinquent named Francis (Johnny Flynn) shows up with the boss’ son Richie (Dylan O’Brien) bleeding out. The cutter stitches him up, but the night is only getting started. Leonard finds himself wrapped up in a plot involving rival crime families, a tape, and a rat. The whole film plays like a chess game that boils down to wit, timing, and a little luck. One wrong move could mean the end for Leonard and his protégé Mable (Zoey Deutch).
In Bridge of Spies and even more mainstream movies like Ready Player One, Rylance demonstrated a knack for getting a lot across with few words. While his role here is dialogue-heavy, Rylance brings nuances and other little touches to Leonard that keep us on our toes. For much of the film, we aren’t sure if Leonard is barely hanging on by a thread or if he’s a step ahead of everyone else. I’d say that Rylance carries much of the picture, but that might undersell the strength of his equally charismatic co-stars and a well-assembled filmmaking team.
Graham Moore previously won an Oscar for writing The Imitation Game. In addition to co-writing The Outfit with actor Johnathan McClain, Moore makes his directorial debut here. Moore doesn’t bite off more than he can chew on his first outing, setting the entire film in Leonard’s shop. Like Fran Kranz’s Mass, though, Moore does extraordinary things with just one locale. Dick Pope’s cinematography, William Goldenberg’s editing, and Gemma Jackson’s production design turn the shop into a world of its own.
Before breaking into screenwriting, Moore started writing mystery novels. This shines through in The Outfit. While the film isn’t a whodunit, it does leave the audience guessing around every turn. If the script were published as a novel, you wouldn’t be able to put it down. As a film, The Outfit is masterfully plotted, stylishly crafted, and enormously entertaining. In an age where so many films tread on familiar waters, The Outfit stands out as a true original.