Film Review: ‘The Outfit,” Rylance shine as gangster genre suspense

Every few years, we get a film that takes a well-known genre and gives us a fresh take on an old familiar trope. Graham Moore’s “The Outfit” as gangster noir does just that, and with gusto thanks to an excellent performance from its brilliant lead, Sir Mark Rylance.

“The Outfit,” also written by Moore along with Johnathan McClain, is a gritty, dialogue-heavy gangster flick with teeth and biting wit. Set in Chicago in 1956, the film focuses on Leonard Burling, an English cutter who runs his shop in a neighborhood controlled by Irish Mob boss Roy Boyle. Boyle’s chief enforcer, Francis, and his son and second-in-command Ritchie use Burling’s shop as a stash house for dirty money as Burling tolerates this arrangement as the Boyles and their men are his best customers.

Burling also shares a complicated relationship with shop receptionist Mabel, who is also Ritchie’s girlfriend. Mabel has no interest in Burling’s trade and ownership of the store, wanting instead to leave Chicago and travel the world. When a job goes sideways and one of the them are injured, they retreat to the shop where Burling is forced to finally open his eyes to the world he’s been complicit in turning a blind eye to.

The results are a suspenseful who-done-it, heavily enriched by dialogue and simply excellent performances from the ensemble cast. The film has style and a clever narrative — not to mention proper villains — that shows the audience just enough but never the entire picture. At least not until the end.

Whether it was the incredibly complex performance from Rylance (“Dunkirk”) or the revolving carousel of interesting, unsavory and untrustworthy characters who come and go from the shop, it’s hard not to get sucked into the mystery. Without spoiling too much, nothing in the shop is truly what it appears to be and this mystery drives the plot forward with a visual look that really captures the beauty of a cold winter’s night in Chicago back in 1956. 

“The Outfit,” for those unfamiliar, is the nickname for the Chicago Crime Syndicate, started by Al Capone and carried on by Tony Accardo into the second half of the 20th century. So many mom-and-pop businesses at the time were beholden to their neighborhood “watch,” which makes for an interesting conflict within Burling.

Zoey Deutch (“Zombieland 2”) shines as Mabel, while Dylan O’Brien (“The Maze Runner,”) gives a wonderful performance as Richie Boyle. O’Brien has come a long way since he was caught shoplifting by Bernie Mac in “Bad Santa.” Johnny Flynn (“Stardust”)  gives his best James Cagney impression as Francis, while Simon Russell Beale (“The Death of Stalin”) throws his weight around his screen time with gusto and power.

For fans of the genre (or dialogue-heavy films), “The Outfit” checks all the boxes and is truly an under-radar release worth seeing. Moore’s writing, which netted him the 2014 “Best Adapted Screenplay” Academy Award for “The Imitation Game,” is powerful and paced. A fine debut as a director, especially when directing his own imagining. Costuming, score and cinematography are all well-crafted as well.

I highly recommend “The Outfit” as one of 2022’s best films thus far as we move into the summer blockbuster tentpole season. Paired down, modest, well-written and still very entertaining, definitely give this one a shot. I am looking forward to Moore’s next foray into film. Perhaps a film version of his book, “The Last Days of Night,” centered around the heated rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse.

Until then, if you’re going to make “a drop” at your local theater, make sure you give “The Outfit” a looksee while you’re there. 

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