The Outfit

A cutter, not a tailor.

Aug 29, 2022
Dimitris Passas

Outfit is a word that can have multiple definitions and in this film's context acquires a double meaning as it both refers to a set of clothes, but also, especially when used within the confines of the American slang, pertains to "any kind of legitimate or illicit organization with a unifying aim or purpose", thus the term became associated with various organized crime groups such as the "Chicago Outfit" which originated in the 1910s, a vast criminal empire led by the notorious Al Capone. The movie features a protagonist, Leonard, who works as a tailor, or as he prefers to call himself "a cutter", in Chicago during the 1950s, more specifically in 1956, an era when the gangsters dominated the city and terrorized its innocent citizens with regular shootings and killings in the streets even in broad daylight. Leonard's shop is used by the local mobsters as a hangout spot and a place to send and receive their mail. Thus, the title links the protagonist, whose job is to give shape and mend pieces of clout, with the mafia enforcers who bully poor Leonard into submission, treating him like he is one of their underlings. It should be highlighted that the entirety of the film is shot inside the tailor shop with the director, Graham Moore, who is known to cinema lovers from his work as the screenwriter for the 2014 The Imitation Game that earned him the Oscar in the 2015 Awards, possibly wants to make a reference to the work of the suspense master Alfred Hitchcock as well as that by other preeminent directors and films such as Quentin Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs, an affinity that is easy to spot especially at one point of the plot's development.

In fact, the movie feels more like a theater play than a cinema picture, due to its enclosed spatial setting (the tailor shop) and the old-fashioned way in which the characters deliver their lines, bringing to mind the American noir productions of the 1940 and 1950s. Avoiding being an outdated antique through the grace of its direction and script, The Outfit captures the audience's attention from the first minute of its runtime, the focus being solely on the dialogue with the script revealing its splendor as the story moves forward, always compelling us to speculate and make assumptions only to be proved unfounded as the narrative changes direction in a display of bravura by the two screenwriters, the director Graham Moore and Johnathan McClain. The film's freshness and innovation materializes from its highly inventive plot and a scintillating final solution that will make you re-watch the movie in your mind's eye, re-adjusting your perspective on the plot events considering what you now know. The suspense factor is kept at the topmost of levels, especially after a certain point in which one of the main characters is getting shot and killed, thus giving Leonard a severe headache as he has a dead body to hide and also save himself from the wrath of a ruthless crime boss. It should be noted that the creators put a lot of care as far as the accuracy in the representation of a long-gone time period is concerned and that is evident in the shop's furniture and paraphernalia, the costumes,and even in the language that is used by the characters.

The movie begins with Leonard talking in voice-over, explaining to the audience the complexity and different parameters that his job entails, thus introducing us to the world of a quiet and timid man who has learned the hard way to keep away from other people business and exlusively devotes his care to his work. Leonard has left his homecountry after the post-war emergence of the blue-jeans trousers dominance that made his job irrelevant and moved to Chicago to work as a cutter for men who know to appreciate his craft and actually care for their attire. The only think that he took with him before he left England was his scissors. As his receptionist, Mable, says "What else does a man need besides his shears?". Leonard shares a father-daughter relationship with young Mable who is in an intimate relationship with the mob boss's son, Richie. Their strong tie will prove to play a major role in the process of the plot unraveling and Leonard will be called to prove his feelings of fatherly love in a rather extreme way. The cutter's problems begin when one night, he receives a late night visit in his shop by Richie and Francis, the boss's prime henchman. Richie has been shot to the stomach and Leonard is forced, at gun point, to saw up Richie's wound, eventually saving his life. The two men carry a briefcase of unknown content while they also have a tape in which the identity of the organization's traitor, or rat as they call it, is revealed.

Things will get out of hand when Richie and Francis confront one another in a fight that will result in the fatal shooting of one of them. During the rest of the film, Leonard will have to navigate himself out of a tight predicament as he has a dead body stashed in the premises and an object, the tape, that many people are willing to kill for in order to obtain it. This combination compels him to use all of his wits to outsmart the mob boss and his trusted thugs while at the same time saving the innocent life of Mable whose life will be threatened as the story reaches its conclusion. The character of Leonard is one of the most alluring aspects of The Outfit as we gradually learn to admire the insight that he gained on other people through the sheer power of observation that his professional career helped him to strengthen. He is highly perceptive and certainly seems to know way more than he is letting on to others, a suspicion that is verified in the end where we learn the truth about his actual background and past personal history. Is Leonard acting impulsively or are his actions a result of rigorous planning? That is one of the questions that the audience is prompted to mull over about. Mark Rylance, who has also won an Oscar in 2016 for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, gives an unforgettable performance as the meek Leonard who hides a great deal of grit and cunning underneath his completely unremarkable exterior appearance. Simon Russel Beale is authoritative as Roy, the crime boss, while both Dylan O' Brien and Zoey Deutch breathe life into their respective characters.

I think that The Outfit is a movie that will appeal to a wide mass of cinema aficionados as it will attract film-noir fanatics, the loyal Hitchcockians, but also fans the gangster movie genre who are keen on witnessing a truthful representation the men that constitute the core of the colossal crime institutions that since a long time ago, reign whole cities to the detriment of the weaker individuals who often have to submit to the demands as dictated by the members of the people who are in the top positions of the gang's hierarchy. It is that impression that we first get from Leonard, another victim, a man who will be forced to play ball and let himself be intimidated by the men who frequent his place of work. By the end of film, our assumptions are turned upside down as a whole different type of man is now commanding the screen, one who managed to outfox the vicious goons who thought that he would be an easy target. The movie is fast-moving in terms of pacing and the dialogue is top-notch, succeeding in keeping alive the viewer's awareness as every line has something to say and serves the main narrative which is infused with violence, lying, and deception from the beginning until the end. The Outfit is one of the best productions in the genre for 2022 and a film that can be valued and enjoyed by audiences of every age and genre preference. It's a sturdy 4/5 stars and nothing less.


The Outfit
Graham Moore
Written by
Graham Moore, Johnathan McClain
Mark Ryland, Zoey Deutch, Stephen Knox, Dylan O' Brien, Simon Russel Beale, Johnny Flynn
Production Companies
FilmNation Entertainment Focus Features Scoop Productions (II) Unified Theory
105 min

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