The Outfit review – Mark Rylance’s mob tailor makes the cut

<span>Photograph: Universal/PA</span>
Photograph: Universal/PA

The Oscar-winner gives a cool, calm centre to this tightly-buttoned drama about Chicago gangsters rooting out a mole

The title has a double edge: it means a suit of clothes, and also the mob. US screenwriter and novelist Graham Moore won an Oscar for scripting The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch as wartime codebreaker Alan Turing. Now he’s made his directing debut with his own co-written screenplay: an amusingly contrived single-location suspense thriller, full of twist and counter-twist, set in 1950s Chicago (the city of Moore’s birth). It sometimes feels like a more refined, more well-spoken and well-tailored version of Reservoir Dogs, with besuited gangsters turning guns on each other in an enclosed space and a shot tough guy seething in agony from his bullet wound. But it has a heavier tread than this: owing more, maybe, to Hitchcock’s Rope.

Mark Rylance provides a solid centre with a typically calm, coolly composed, quietly spoken performance, often giving us an opaque and unnerving twinkle of mischief. He plays Leonard, a British tailor who left his homeland (for shadowy reasons) with nothing but his tailor’s scissors, and set up shop in Chicago. The reason he’s been able to make a success of things is that he is almost solely patronised by the local gangsters: the ageing capo is Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale), who runs this turf with his unreliable hothead son, Richie (Dylan O’Brien); Richie is snarlingly resentful that his old man now favours a smooth new lieutenant, Francis (Johnny Flynn).

These bad-mannered gangsters often order fancy suits from Leonard, but use his shop’s backroom as an HQ and hangout. Poor, sensitive Leonard has to quietly accept their boozy bullying (he’s actually fond of a drink himself) and get on with the trade about which he is passionate. It has given him a skill in sizing up men’s bodies and also their souls: he knows from the way they carry themselves what sort of people they are, and how to dress them. Leonard has a fatherly concern for his secretary, Mable (a nice performance from Zoey Deutch), who is keeping secrets from him. Things go terribly wrong when a rat in Roy Boyle’s organisation is suspected of selling them out to a rival gang and also the FBI, which has been tape-recording incriminating conversations using a device concealed with the rat’s help. Now the guys have managed to get hold of one of these tapes, and if they can play it, they will discover the bug’s location and get a fix on the rat’s identity. But what if the rat is higher up than anyone thinks?

In truth, the “tape” MacGuffin is a bit laboured, and the whole movie seems sometimes to be moving at about 80–90% of its required speed and energy. And there is also something stylised and slightly non-realistic about the way the nationwide mob is imagined to be an occult secret organisation called “the Outfit”, slightly different from the Cosa Nostra we already know about. But there is also a theatrical charm and composure to the performances (and once again, it’s time to marvel at the way Brit actors such as Beale and Flynn get to play Chicago tough guys). We know that these soldiers of crime are underestimating humble civilian Leonard, but it remains for us to find out what has actually been going on. It’s an entertaining, fairly overwrought piece, a little tightly buttoned.

• The Outfit screened at the Berlin film festival. It’s scheduled for release on 18 March 2022 in the US and 8 April in the UK.