Film Review (Glasgow Film Festival): ‘The Outfit’ is a well-adapted play in film form


Director:Graham Moore

Writers:Jonathan McClain, Graham Moore

Stars: Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien

Synopsis: An expert tailor must outwit a dangerous group of gangsters in order to survive a fateful night.

It seems perfectly appropriate to make Mark Rylance the central protagonist of The clothe, the feature debut of novelist Graham Moore. Rylance is a stage veteran – having starred in countless plays since the 80s – and is considered by some to be one of the greatest stage actors of his generation. He has also often spoken of his love for the stage and his preference for directing over film.

Rylance, then, fits The clothe like a well-tailored suit. Moore’s ’50s gangster thriller is set entirely in one location and features the blocking and staging typical of any major theatrical production. It’s as intricate as any of its protagonist’s costumes, and unfolds satisfyingly as it burns to its climax. He suffers a bit from the show-don’t-tell problem at times, almost reveling in his own intelligence a little too much at times, but ultimately Rylance anchors it all with his shrewd, sly performance.

Leonard Burling (Rylance) is an Englishman living in Chicago in the 1950s. He is a ‘cutter’, trained on the famous Saville Row in London, and makes bespoke suits for his clients. His store is also a drop-off point for the Irish mafia, who come in and out every day to deliver letters. Burling stays as far away from that as possible; he is a quiet, mild-mannered tailor who wants nothing to do with the sleazy life, preferring to focus on his fabrics. He worries about his assistant Mable (Zoey Deutch) whom he considers a daughter and who has started a romantic relationship with Ritchie Boyle, impetuous son of mob boss Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale). Burling hopes Mable will take over his shop for him one day when he retires, but Mable has plans to travel the world and has a collection of snow globes featuring historical landmarks from around the world as proof.

Burling’s situation with the mob has always walked a tightrope, but things change for the worse when Richie is shot by a rival mob and shows up at Burling’s store to hide. Ritchie’s right-hand man, Francis (Johnny Flynn), forces Burling to stitch up Ritchie’s wound before revealing that there’s a rat – a police informant – in their midst who’s aiming to find out. who it is before the end of the night.

Of the The clothe takes place in a revolving door play, as characters come and go and developments happen off-screen. From its first moments, The clothe presents his booth as a perfectly constructed story: the first scene features intricately detailed craftsmanship as Burling creates his famous costumes, with a voiceover from Burling himself detailing all the unseen intricacies that go into the craft itself. There’s a pleasing symmetry between Burling’s craft and the craft of storytelling, as layers are stripped away throughout the film to reveal hidden details beneath.

There are no simple answers in The clothe. Each proposition: Who is the rat? Who doubles who? Who will find out the truth first? They’re all given a more convoluted answer than you think, as the twists and turns catapult into the open.

Although he only works in two spaces throughout the film – the front room of Burling’s shop and the back where he makes his costumes – Moore manages to keep anything from getting boring. Cinematographer Dick Pope keeps everything fresh by ensuring that each part of the shop that serves a function is highlighted in different ways, and these are teased throughout the run. A cupboard, a box, mundane objects that inhabit the background are quickly brought to the fore, staged and seen differently from what we might have noticed five minutes ago. Each frame is filled with tension as dead ends occur and rather than cutting into close-ups, the camera remains static on the stage, allowing it to breathe when the audience pauses. The shifting gazes quickly change focus and then we are privy to a secret that only one of the characters can know as we wait for the others to catch up with us. Elsewhere, Alexandre Desplat’s score is unsettling, with a tense, subtle trill underlying most scenes as the mood soars towards the crescendo.

There are moments that seem a little too cute, a little too convoluted. Some reveals – especially towards the end – stretch the credulity a bit, but it’s to Rylance’s credit that he can carry those moments on his own and keep them from spoiling the feeling of the film. He is clearly a world-class actor and it shows in these moments; you feel The clothe might not have been quite the same movie without him.

For a first feature film, The clothe is confident, assured, and as well-crafted as any of Burling’s suits. If you can forgive some of the dumbest development and enjoy Rylance’s performance, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.



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