Has a gangster movie ever been called cute? I guess if we broaden the definition to simply “crime film” then Pierrot le fou (1965) could qualify. Graham Moore’s The Outfit, a film about a simple soft-spoken cutter (“not tailor, a cutter” he reminds people multiple times) named Leonard (Mark Rylance) caught between two rival Chicago mafia gangs, is something of an oddity in both its tonal shifts and its narrative turns. It can only be accurately described in my opinion as “cute” because it tries to get away with a lot of deception, thievery, sneaking around, and jaunty quips and it doesn’t quite pull it off. This movie is simple in its set and premise and its light and airy twisty story too easily wafts like a feather in the wind. It has threads of charm but it isn’t memorable or affecting.
A Story, Character and Music That Are Light as a Feather
The first thing one notices in The Outfit is Mark Rylance’s voice. It’s so soft, so mannered, it can barely be heard above Alexandre Desplat’s smooth-jazz piano score. Like everything else in the film, it’s elegant and feathery and we first hear it in a voice-over monologue of Leonard relaying the first steps of cutting a proper suit. The movie’s sheen is bright, clear, and everything looks as manicured and perfect as possible down to Rylance’s secretary Mable’s (Zoey Deutch) hair.
Her voice too, tinged with a slight old-school wise-girl dialect, is delightfully charming to listen to. Then in come the gangsters Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and Francis (Johnny Flynn) who use Leonard’s cutting shop for exchanges and communication in addition to the occasional finely tailored suit. But these gangsters are perfectly clean too. Perfect hair, perfect skin, even their wise-cracked and ribbing of Leonard is with gloves on – He too, gives the most passive-aggressive of jabs back but with an innocent look and that voice that can do no wrong.
Rylance Tries, But It’s Not Enough
It’s all too cute. The Outfit is because it’s a movie that is stacked daintily on a trembling house of cards. It’s obvious from the get-go that Leonard isn’t letting on everything he knows and sees. He seems a little too comfortable in a world of people who can easily kill him. He did save the mob boss Roy’s (Simon Russell) life way back when but when was the last time a gangster didn’t assert his muscle even in the face of someone he owes his life to? The problem with The Outfit is that it’s overwritten and wound too neatly around a central twist that suspicion becomes obvious. The narrative unravels before your eyes in such a way that stakes and loose threads are clipped before they can really cause a stir. Leonard even tells one of the gangster’s that he’s a rat and then says he’s joking… in no gangster’s world but the one in this film would have been received as anything but a threat.
I’m not one to belabor a film about believability, but when your movie is about deception the underlying truth demands a level of groundedness. I don’t buy this story for one second. It’s not well crafted, and its narrator is completely unconvincing no matter how soothing his voice is. The fact that he is so unfazed and comfortable and tremorless is exactly the reason not to believe him. So then, we can just sit back and watch as Rylance weaves his yarns while knowing full well the exact direction The Outfit is going to go, and then it goes there. So, what? Rylance’s performance is good for what it’s worth. His timid shuffling and innocent looks work well for his frame and age, despite the fact that the story underserves him at every moment.
Single-set premise movies (we never really get anything outside of Leonard’s shop except a few establishing shots of its street-corner location) have had some resurgence in recent years, from Gustav Moller’s The Guilty (2018) to Franz‘s Mass (2020), as filmmakers cleverly use the ambiguity of information to weave a stunning yarn or drag audiences into devastating truths. The Outfit tries the former but doesn’t have a good poker-face, and ultimately devolves into a mess of cheap tricks.
Have you seen The Outfit? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
The Outfit was released in U.S. theaters on March 18th, 2022.
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