By Katie Walsh Tribune News Service
Leonard (Mark Rylance), the owner of Chicago’s finest bespoke suit shop in 1956, wants to make one thing clear: He’s not a tailor, he’s a tailor. “Anyone with a needle and thread can be called a tailor,” he sniffs. No, Leonard trained for years on London’s legendary Savile Row, learning the art of cutting suits from fine fabrics, and he wields his trusty old shears with the precision and confidence that comes from decades spent to his profession.
“The Outfit,” written by Johnathan McClain and Graham Moore, is Moore’s directorial debut, which won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Imitation Game.” It takes place entirely within the confines of Leonard’s shop, a comfortable respite from the freezing, seemingly bullet-riddled streets of Chicago. But gang warfare crosses the threshold of L. Burling Bespoke, and the result is a curvy, blood-soaked bedroom piece, a retro black gangster as meticulously crafted as a handsome tailored suit.
An emigrant from England, Leonard claims he came to Chicago to ply his trade because he was attacked – from blue jeans. He slipped into this world of Al Capone wannabes by submitting to their demands: There’s a secret mailbox in the back of his shop where the Irish Mafia sends and receives messages. It doesn’t arouse suspicion for the men to come and go from the costume shop frequently, and gang leader Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale) has a taste for Leonard’s fine clothes and fine English manner: tea and cookies and Oscar Wilde quotes.
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But it’s Boyle’s arrogant son, Richie (Dylan O’Brien), who goes shopping with his menacing countryman Francis (Johnny Flynn) by his side. Richie often pulls a few too many smiles in the direction of Leonard’s charming receptionist, Mable (Zoey Deutch). One night, when Leonard is working late, Richie and Francis burst in the door, Richie bleeding from a gunshot wound to his stomach. They have a recording of an FBI bug in their possession, and if they can find something to play it with, they’ll find out who the rat might be. This is just the beginning of the bloody drama that will unfold over the next two hours in this space.
Carefully portrayed and studied physique by Oscar winner Rylance, one can’t help but feel that Leonard’s calm, unassuming nature belies something much deeper beneath the surface. He’s just a little too quick on his feet and too smart with a lie, allaying all sorts of suspicion as Richie, Francis and Roy walk through, with the situation getting more and more dangerous and more extensive.
Set in a single location and guided by the script and performances, “The Outfit” feels theatrical, like a stage play, but what might otherwise have been a minimalist pot is elevated by the cast, especially Rylance, who delicately carries story and tone, offering subtlety and nuance to contrast the brutality of the men around him. O’Brien, Flynn and Deutch are three of the best young actors working today, and they play Rylance’s Leonard with swagger (O’Brien), psychopathy (Flynn) and sweetness (Deutch).
Legendary cinematographer Dick Pope shoots the film with the sort of desaturated color palette that has become de rigueur for a period piece, and while some moments are dull, there’s otherwise a warm beauty and texture. and lit by the lamp in the style of the film. Alexandre Desplat’s score is a little aggressive at times, but it gives the project the appeal of the 1950s.
They don’t often make them like this anymore, a carefully cut, folded and sewn story, so “The Outfit” is worth slipping in and savoring.