The Outfit is a Well-worn but Ill-fitting Chamber Piece
The Outfit screening provided by Cinema Nova
“The Outfit executes for the most part, even if it does take a few too many turns to arrive at its destination.”
“Making a suit is a refined skill, not art. It’s not about making fashion, but executing as close to perfection as you can”. These are the words of Leonard (Mark Rylance) in the new film The Outfit (2022), talking about his profession as a cutter (distinct from a measly tailor, as we are told often), but is also an accurate description of the film itself.
Academy Award winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game (2014), Graham Moore, returns to cinema with his directorial debut, a chamber piece set in 1950s Chicago about Leonard, a British cutter who left London (for reasons that are piecemealed out in the film) to start a new life in the US.
We have been making a version of this post-war filmic play for as long as we have had sound in film, all with varying degrees of success. The Outfit executes for the most part, even if it does take a few too many turns to arrive at its destination. This is no Chayevsky or Stoppard, but it works well enough in its less ambitious approach to staid material, supported by a solid cast.
Just like a nice but unremarkable suit worn on a red carpet, surrounded by audacious clothing choices, the film is best viewed as an execution of a familiar statement, not as an attempt at breaking new ground in the genre. For one, the film’s staging and blocking heightens each scene in an impressive and delightful way, laying out the shop with careful detail. This was clearly a Covid production, with each scene having minimal people in a room at once, usually standing far apart, in a single location, which they use to their creative advantage throughout the film which improves the material.
Oscar winner Rylance is perfect casting for the film with his weathered yet hopeful demeanour, and really holds it together even with scenes he’s not the centre of. He is a wonderfully generous performer, allowing room for the rest of the ensemble to shine, particularly Zoey Deutch as his assistant Mable. There are several wordless exchanges between the pair that establish their relationship so beautifully, something the film longs for in the latter half.
The seams start to show as The Outfit gets cute with the dialogue and story that confuses the tone a bit too often to lock into, especially in scenes where suspense and deception is paramount. In a film that should be excelling based on its sharp dialogue, too many scenes feel like information dumps rather than organic conversations. The score by the legend Alexandre Desplat only heightens this approach to the storytelling that may have been better suited to be focused on the tension of the narrative instead, which is where the film thrives.
The wheels start to come off a bit with a reveal very late in the film that feels as tacked as a clip-on tie, which is unfortunate as the story was moving well until this stage. While still a solid feature, The Outfit is ill-fitting and quite the staid chamber piece that would’ve been more effective on the stage.
The Outfit opens exclusively at Cinema Nova from the 18th of August, 2022.
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