Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Mark Rylance mesmerises in Chicago-set crime thriller ‘The Outfit’

Michael O’Sullivan

THE WASHINGTON POST- As Leonard, the blandly unassertive Chicago tailor of men’s bespoke suits that we first meet in The Outfit – or as Leonard himself would put it more modestly, a ‘cutter’ – Mark Rylance does not initially command attention. As the film gets underway, Leonard occupies himself with his craft, single-mindedly and without histrionics: measuring, drawing, sewing and, yes, cutting fabric in his almost claustrophobic little shop, which the camera will never leave until the final shot of the film, after one long and remarkable night.

Leonard, or English, as nearly everyone calls the Savile Row-trained clothier, clearly loves his work, and so does the storyteller: writer-director Graham Moore, making his feature debut behind the camera after winning an Oscar for his screenplay for 2014′s The Imitation Game.

As English describes the meticulous nature of his occupation, in his scone-dry voice-over, cinematographer Dick Pope (Supernova) watches over his shoulder, as it were, turning the minutia of suit-making into a kind of art form, despite the protagonist’s effacing self-assessment.

The Outfit unfolds with the same meticulousness. Set in 1956, it’s a cleverly twisty crime story constructed of many invisible folds and threads, yet it fits Rylance like custom-made clothing. (Fun fact: The actor, who immersed himself in the skills of tailoring in preparation for the role, made the suit he wears in the film).

While English works, occasionally stopping to engage in chitchat with his shop assistant Mabel (Zoey Deutch), we watch. Breaking up that rhythm are the comings and goings of several unidentified men, periodically depositing parcels in a mysterious lockbox affixed to the back wall of the shop, and at other times showing up to collect them.

Mark Rylance in The Outfit. PHOTOS: FOCUS FEATURES
Nikki Amuka-Bird in a scene of The Outfit

Slowly, we glean that English consented to allow Chicago mobster Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale) to use his shop for communications involving whatever it is they do – which, it is implied, ain’t pretty.

The ugliness is confirmed when Boyle’s callow son Richie (Dylan O’Brien) shows up late one night. Staggering in on the arm of another goon named Francis (Johnny Flynn), Richie has been shot: He’s got a marble in his gut, in their coarse parlance, a stark contrast to English’s more refined, diffident, even oblique way of speaking.

There’s talk of a rat – not the rodent, but a snitch – an incriminating audio tape, the FBI and a rival gang. English, despite his protestations, is conscripted to sew Richie up. Suddenly, and with the narrative impact of a tectonic shift, the equilibrium of the film tilts in the direction of its star. The Outfit is Rylance’s film from here on out.

The story itself, a suspenseful game of cat-and-mouse – and, I suppose, a rat, though who’s toying with whom is often uncertain – is well constructed, even pleasurably Hitchcockian at times, if less than deep, and sometimes corseted by the staginess of its essentially one-room setting. But it’s a fine showcase for its star and his talents. Rylance’s character starts off as a wallflower, but slowly, and with the inexorable persistence of English ivy, takes over the film, pulling our focus toward him, as the stakes rise.

The supporting cast is great, and includes the Nigerian-born, London trained Nikki Amuka-Bird, who briefly – but only briefly – steals the spotlight, with a third-act entrance as an elegant rival mobster to Beale’s more brutish Boyle.

By the film’s violent, satisfying, surprising conclusion, Rylance has taken the focus back, in a performance that is perfectly suited to his greatest and most subtle gift – the ability to hide something beneath a veneer of impeccability and reserve: a sense of bold, even dangerous unpredictability.