The Outfit review: Mark Rylance gangster thriller is an ill fitting suit

Graham Moore's The Outfit is a small-scale gangster thriller that's never better than Mark Rylance's lead performance.

The Outfit Mark Rylance
(Image: © Focus Features)

What to Watch Verdict

Dick Pope's cinematography, Alexandre Desplat's score and Mark Rylance's leading role amount to much less than all that pedigree suggests.


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    🧵 Mark Rylance is the main attraction

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    🧵 Dick Pope with such a keen camera's eye

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    🧵 An intriguing midsection with deception and danger


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    🧵 It's clean, but a bit sterile

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    🧵 So much is forgettable, which shouldn't happen with this cast and crew

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    🧵 Feels restricted and limited

Mark Rylance is superbly cast in Graham Moore's less superb Chicagoan period thriller The Outfit. A claustrophobic seamster's storefront plays backdrop to Moore's single-location mystery, which is defined by its tremendous middle act sandwiched between two stale pieces of days-old gangster dough. 

Rylance is sharper than steel as an all-seeing "cutter" who'd slice your finger off if you foolishly called him a tailor, but that engagement stays tied to his performance. Without reason, Moore's directorial debut feels oddly indebted to stage plays turned boxy. The Outfit steals its technical influences from live theatrical performances, but never as a fluid transformation.

Playing an English wardrobe master named Leonard, Rylance's character purveys the high art of men's fashion somewhere around the 1950s. While Chicago's underworld rages its wars, Leonard allows mob son Richie (Dylan O'Brien) and right-hand Francis (Johnny Flynn) to access a secret mailbox in his shop. Francis bursts in late one night with a wounded Richie, demanding Leonard save his crime lord's kin. Leonard obliges but only finds himself and his receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch) embroiled in an overnight conspiracy involving accusations of betrayal and a recording that could implicate the family's no-good informant.

What's not to love about a dapper, gentlemanly Mark Rylance playing puppet master as henchmen and faction bosses make their home in his character's business? Leonard is this balance of sophistication and cunning that drives a relatively cut-and-dry standoff, limited in its illegal excitement. Rylance exquisitely hides Leonard's savvy and intelligence behind unassuming needle threading — he's a top-rate talent, a real experienced guide. The Outfit is best when Rylance is in control, like a Verbal Kint of the Tommy Gun era. Rylance belongs in his position, moving hitman pawns around a Chutes and Ladders board designed for children.

Moore and co-writer Johnathan McClain's screenplay struggles with its introduction and exit. At first, there's little establishment for a shadowy agency known as "The Outfit" (wordplay for crime syndicate). Later, The Outfit needlessly extends itself when the fake-out ending proves to be better than what transpires. 

Dylan O'Brien and Zoey Deutch ooze fast-talkin' charisma for the scenes they're allowed, but this is more Johnny Flynn's showcase. It's a shame because his squirrely go-getter is weakly outlined as a protagonist-antagonist plant, yet that's where Moore focuses attention. Rylance savors the untrustworthiness meant to suspend our accusations, but Moore's narrative poorly translates threats into tension between not-so-hard-boiled marks.

From a technical standpoint, The Outfit is a clean lockbox whodunit about a filthy rat and bleeding gunshot injuries. Dick Pope's cinematography is impeccable as his camera crams the film's players into an inescapable confrontation you know will end in tragedy. 

Alexandre Desplat's score stokes pins-and-needles uncertainty plaguing Leonard's deathly predicament and the ongoing carousel of opportunist goombas. Though Moore surrounds himself with veteran masters of their craft — Rylance, Pope, Desplat — the experience remains rather unexceptional. That's an unfortunate reaction to names of such industry caliber. 

The Outfit delivers the tinker and the tailor, but that's all. Graham Moore's poker face lacks when telling a story of calloused shear handlers and triggermen, dampening the flames of suspense that could come from Chicago gangland rivalries. On the other hand, actresses Zoey Deutch and Nikki Amuka-Bird — with her provoked monologue about immigrant angst — steal the show, which speaks volumes to their disproportionate usage on screen. Mark Rylance expectedly walks away unscathed with another marketable credit to his repertoire, but that's about all The Outfit boasts as an original yet unenthusiastic entry into treacherous mid-1900s criminal canon.

The Outfit releases in US movie theaters on March 18. It will premiere in the UK on April 8.

Matt Donato

Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for What To Watch, IGN, Paste, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria and countless other publications. He is a member of Critics Choice and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.