What’s a Savile Row tailor doing in Chicago in 1956, let alone having his shop used as a drop-off for the mob? The answers to that question get increasingly far-fetched in “The Outfit.” Yes, that noun does have meanings both sartorial and organizational, but playing narrative Wordle will take a movie only so far.
The proprietor of the shop is one Leonard Burling. Leonard bridles at the designation “tailor.” “I’m a cutter,” he explains to one of the gangsters. “A tailor sews on buttons and hems trousers. Anyone with a needle and thread and 15 minutes can be a tailor. I studied for decades to be a cutter.”
With his precise, deferential manner and almost preposterous English-ness, Leonard is like a version of Anthony Hopkins’s butler in “The Remains of the Day” (1993). Happily, he, too, is played by a superlative actor, Mark Rylance.
“The Outfit” would be a splendid thing if limited to Rylance’s voiceover and long lingering shots of him working with fabrics. The cinematographer is the great Dick Pope. Sophie O’Neill and the fashion designer Zac Posen did the costumes.
Those bits aside, and they are excellent bits, “The Outfit” is not a splendid thing. It’s the feature directing debut of Graham Moore. Moore won an Oscar for writing “The Imitation Game” (2014). He co-wrote “The Outfit,” with Johnathan McClain.
The movie’s very stagy, both in the clunkety-clunk of the dialogue (partly concealed by Rylance’s delivery) and its resembling a filmed play. Other than a few shots of the shop’s exterior — there’s quite a nice bay window — everything takes place inside its confines. Well, confines isn’t the right word, since the interior is the size of a small warehouse. This makes the camera setups easier but does rather undermine the believability of what we see.
Various plot loop-the-loops get increasingly loopy. Does Leonard have a backstory? Oh, yes, he does. (In fairness, one twist, involving a rival mob, is jaw-droppingly good.) Details don’t bother Moore much, either. One of the gangsters (Dylan O’Brien, the “Maze Runner” movies) suffers a life-threatening gunshot wound that must be the least debilitating in screen history.
O’Brien gives a swaggeringly maladroit performance. So does Johnny Flynn (the 2020 “Emma,” “The Dig”), as another gunman. “Goodfellas” karaoke, anyone? Zoey Deutch, playing Leonard’s helper, is better, but not all that much. Moore’s strengths would not seem to include handling actors.
Those who already know what they’re doing manage far better. As warring crime bosses, Simon Russell Beale and Nikki Amuka-Bird hold up their end. And then, of course, there’s Rylance. He conducts a clinic: in understatement, in control, in sheer mastery of craft.
Explaining how it was he left London for Chicago he says, “I came to a place that isn’t weighed down with bitter history.” It’s a flossy line, but with the faintest hesitation as he says “bitter” Rylance makes it seem profound. You feel a bit bad for the rest of the cast. It must be fun to get to play across the net from Roger Federer. It can’t be fun, though, with other people watching as you do it and seeing how much better he is.
Directed by Graham Moore. Written by Moore and Johnathan McClain. Starring Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, Johnny Flynn. At Boston Common, Kendall Square, suburbs. 105 minutes. R (bloody violence, language).
Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.