The pleasures of writer-director Graham Moore’s intimate little crime thriller The Outfit sneak up on you with the same glissando shiver that you feel when you slip on a silk-lined coat. Much of the story unfolds between lines of dialogue, in furtive glances between characters, or in clever feats of magician-like misdirection. The movie’s star, Mark Rylance—as Leonard Burling, a skilled but humble English tailor—is adept at actorly sleight of hand, gradually revealing his character’s secrets in slivers of dry, wicked wit.
It’s 1956 Chicago, where the Savile Row–trained Leonard now runs his own shop, making fine suits for a clientele heavy on high-ranking gangsters. Though Leonard allows his workspace to be used as a sort of message center for the mob, he keeps his head down and his nose clean, focusing mostly on turning out meticulously worked buttonholes, or cutting through swaths of wool with his treasured shears. His loyal receptionist, Mable (Zoey Deutch), a bright young woman who longs to see the world beyond her stifling city, may or may not be having a romance with junior mobster Richie (Dylan O’Brien), the son of big boss Roy (Simon Russell Beale). And wherever Richie goes, his ambitious and hotheaded sidekick Francis (Johnny Flynn) goes too, stirring up trouble with every step.
At the center of this clever pinwheel of a story—Moore co-wrote the script with Johnathan McClain—is Rylance, whose economy of motion and emotion is a marvel. As he sits quietly and watchfully sewing a sleeve hem, you believe in every stitch—Rylance shows how Leonard’s confidence in his work ripples through him like electricity, reaching right through his fingertips. At times Rylance’s Leonard has the eyes of an anxious terrier, wary and alert. His gaze softens when Mable is around: she’s a kind of surrogate daughter to him, a jewel worth protecting. Nearly all the action in The Outfit takes place inside Leonard’s shop, a cozy lair shot in muted-flannel tones of gray and gold, but Rylance fills the space with subtle grandeur. Every movement, every breath, is made to measure. How can we ever go back to off-the-rack?
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