Guns are drawn and cloth is cut in a film populated by a host of English thesps
Sadly, Citizen Kane is not the required viewing it once was, but it still takes chutzpah to make a snow globe a central plot point in your movie. Then again, zippy period crime thriller The Outfit has confidence to burn. It is a film here simply to give pleasure from the whirr of its storytelling. The setting is 1956 Chicago, although director Graham Moore confines himself to a single location, a low, dark storefront as lonely as a fairytale cottage.
This is Burling Bespoke, the premises of English émigré tailor Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance). Precise by nature, our hero works surrounded by cloth, chalk, shears and tape, the meticulous tools of a meticulous man, stitched into shape on Savile Row.
Rylance’s opening voiceover describes his craft so mesmerically you almost don’t notice the well-dressed, burly figures passing silently by him leaving parcels and envelopes for other well-dressed, burly figures. What eventually registers too is that Moore — a screenwriter making his debut as a director — may not only have tailoring on his mind.
The more talk there is of getting to know a customer’s character, the more you hear echoes of Aaron Sorkin, his every movie about writing movies. Still, Moore joins the dots between suit and script with a lighter touch than Sorkin would. Originality is not the point, we are told. Skill is the key. The movie accelerates. Helping Leonard fold pocket squares is Mable (Zoey Deutch), a sparky assistant mixed up with one of the mobsters using the shop as a drop box; their war will later spill in from the street. A rat is at large. Guns are drawn. Watch out for the snow globe.
Unfolding in two rooms with acres of plot twists, The Outfit resembles nothing so much as a good night out in the West End. The hint of the London stage is heightened by the casting, as fine a batch of Chicago gangsters as you could hope to find in a pub off Shaftesbury Avenue. (Rylance aside, stars include Johnny Flynn and Simon Russell Beale.) And yet the plot mechanics are often a treat, the English imposters great company. Rylance can hang another immaculate screen performance in the wardrobe.