Focus Features, 2022
📷 : Pixabay
Suspenseful and intense thrillers
Mysteries or whodunnits
Mysteries rarely come without the presence of some form of law enforcement. Whether a detective, private investigator, or street officer, these stories typically consist of a character that the audience will assume has the skills and experience to bring about justice. However, the occasional story takes an introverted character free of such a profession and centers the story around them. As they are underestimated or dismissed entirely, they figure out how to manipulate the more dynamic characters to reveal the truth. The Outfit is a gangster movie seen through the eyes of a local tailor named Leonard (Mark Rylance, Dunkirk), who must repeatedly outwit dangerous goons to spare his life.
Set in the 1950s, The Outfit chooses Leonard to serve as the rare non-gangster protagonist of a gangster movie. He is an older gentleman who moved to Chicago to escape his secretive past and has settled in at his clothing shop, along with his companion Mable (Zoey Deutch, Zombieland: Double Tap). There is, nonetheless, a complicating factor to his business: it is controlled by an Irish mob boss named Roy Boyle (Simon Russell, The Death of Stalin). Making matters worse, Mable has an ongoing romance with Richie (Dylan O’Brien, The Maze Runner), Roy’s son. Leonard has no choice but to embrace every aspect of his business situation, as the mobsters remain his most loyal customers.
One night, enforcer Francis (Johnny Flynn, Emma.) shows up with a wounded Richie, who was shot during a run-in with the LaFontaine family, a rival mob of Black Frenchmen. After a confrontation between Richie and Francis ends in Richie’s death, Leonard spends the remainder of the night trying to survive the impulsive Francis and Roy while also protecting Mable.
The Outfit provides the feel of watching a stage play, as the film takes place almost entirely in Leonard’s shop, consists largely of dialogue and a small cast, and has very sophisticated costume design. The story’s biggest draw is how Leonard stays one step ahead of the mobsters consistently, knowing that any misstep will cost him his life. Despite being older and not appearing intimidating or authoritative, he maintains his poise in the face of danger time and again, using clever fibs and reverse psychology to convince the mobsters that they need him alive.
Graham Moore’s directorial debut joins Knives Out and The Gentlemen as recent mystery thrillers executed at a high level. Though a more limited release than the others, The Outfit has received some critical acclaim following its festival appearances and shows the storytelling that can be done with limited resources. Despite Leonard not having the character arc of a typical protagonist, he sticks out as a non-superhero personality that nevertheless has a superpower.
While the above movies may be the most apt comparisons, another similar story to The Outfit would be the early 2000s thriller Road to Perdition. Rather than the violence that Tom Hanks’s character, Michael Sullivan, uses to protect his son while on the run, Leonard uses wit and finesse, lacking the ability to flee the scene. The film’s cat-and-mouse dynamic at times could also be reminiscent of other heart-stoppers like Enemy of the State or No Country for Old Men, as you find yourself thinking, “How is he going to get out of this one?” These films all have their strengths and weaknesses but evoke the same emotional highs and lows in their viewers.