While my self-imposed hiatus from reviewing has caused me to miss out a number of high marquee releases recently, “The Outfit” was one I missed simply due to being overwhelmed with festival season. I’m a sucker for a good crime thriller, even more so when it deals with gangsters. In addition, the pandemic helped created an entire sub-genre of taught, single-location films with minimalist sets and small but mighty casts. I didn’t think I would find myself seeking out these kinds of films, but “The Outfit” checks all of those boxes and manages to pack a gigantic story with constant twists and turns in the back of a Chicago tailor shop in the mid 1950s. It is proof that you don’t always need to be big and loud to be effective and engaging. “The Outfit” is a solid gangster whodunnit that will keep you guessing until the very end and take you on one hell of a somewhat subdued thrill ride.
Directed by Graham Moore (“The Imitation Game“) and written by Moore and prominent television writer Jonathan McClain, “The Outfit” tells the story of English cutter Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) in 1950s Chicago. His tailor shop is in the heart an Irish mob controlled neighborhood, run by boss Rob Boyle who uses his shop as a stash house. Burling doesn’t necessarily approve of his shop being integral to the mob, but he is an expert in his craft and chooses to turn a blind eye to the comings and goings of the mobsters he makes suits for. However, things quickly spiral out of control when the knowledge of an FBI tape is brought to the attention of the Boyle gang and delivered to the stash box in the back of the shop. This also reveals that there may be a rat in the crew, and being able to play the tape becomes priority number one to uncover who that might be. What transpires is a hectic night of escalating violent and paranoia, with everyone involved (or not involved) seemingly acting with a hidden agenda and the suspicion that anyone and everyone could or could not be the rat.
The single setting location of the shop (which we never leave) allows “The Outfit” to create an atmosphere of constant tension and claustrophobia. The search for the rat and “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude of gangsters only heightens the thrilling sense of urgency to unravel the mystery, and makes all of the mistakes and consequences wildly engaging. The entire cast is only comprised of about 7 people, many of which come and go throughout the film even though we as the audience never leave the suit filled tailors. The small cast also serves as a key driver of tension. With so few people to accuse and figure out, it actually makes the whodunnit riddle even harder to solve. It could be everyone and no one, and faces are constantly familiar and the alliances continuously shifting which allows the film to maintain its thrill and guessing through to the very end. At its core, “The Outfit” is a pretty simple story. A gang has a rat and tape that reveals who that is, and everyone wants to figure out first. The simple story paired with the simple backdrop of a small cast elevates all of the simplicity to expert execution and effectiveness.
The true standouts here are Dylan O’Brien and Mark Rylance. O’Brien as Ritchie Boyle (son of the gang’s boss) is particularly good because it’s somewhat out of his wheelhouse. He’s really a bad guy with a pretty face, and leans into both rather well. He’s always been a charming performer, but you can see here that he’s really trying tap into different facets of his skills and use them in more ways than just being a boyish heartthrob.
Confession time, here’s what I got (“Hamilton” intended): I don’t actually care for Mark Rylance as performer. Yes, that includes his award winning performance in “Bridge of Spies” and his double, back to back quirky turns in “Ready Player One” and “Don’t Look Up.” It’s not that he’s not a good performer; he is. But his quirk wears on my far more than it should and rips out of whatever it is he’s trying to do. I say this to say that “The Outfit” is one of the first times I’ve thoroughly enjoyed him from start to finish. Yes, he’s still a quirky Englishman, but it turns out playing it straight Rylance is far more enjoyable that over the top tech billionaire parody Rylance.
Rylance is really, really good here, and is not only the character we spend the most time with, but almost all of the film’s success rest solely on his performance. It’s not that the film isn’t good without him, but it is infinitely better with him and what he’s doing here. It is Rylance who propels the film forward, and helps it drive its claws into you and never lets go until the final moments. And speaking of final moments, “The Outfit” really only struggles in the last minute or so. Were this a larger, less minimal film, the unravelling probably would’ve amounted to jaded redundancy, which is to say that while many of the twists and turns land, there is almost an overload of them that barely borders on not being as effective as it wants to be. I won’t spoil anything, but the final moments and final reveal almost took me out of the film entirely. It’s not that it doesn’t fit narratively or even that it isn’t the right conclusion and not to end on, but it simply carries on a little bit too long and overstays its welcome. Thankfully “The Outfit” doesn’t dwell on it too long, and wraps it all up before things get out of hand, but if there are any mistakes that are made here, it’s that one.
Overall, “The Outfit” is a terrific crime thriller, packed with strong performances and tight script that makes the most of what little it has. Dick Pope‘s (“Dark City,” “The Illusionist,” “Mr. Turner“) cinematography is another triumph here, creating gorgeous shots that immerse you in 1950s Chicago. There is very little not to like here, and I highly recommend it as a taught, worthwhile crime thriller.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
“The Outfit” is available to stream on Peacock. You can watch the trailer below.