Review: ‘The Outfit’ (2022), starring Mark Rylance, Zoey Deutch, Dylan O’Brien, Johnny Flynn, Nikki Amuka-Bird and Simon Russell Beale

March 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Zoey Deutch and Mark Rylance in “The Outfit” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“The Outfit” (2022)

Directed by Graham Moore

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chicago in 1956, the dramatic film “The Outfit” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A mild-mannered British man, who owns a men’s clothing shop in Chicago, has local gangsters as his clients, and he becomes embroiled in the gang’s problems. 

Culture Audience: “The Outfit” will appeal primarily to people who like watching above-average mystery thrillers that have some unpredictable plot twists.

Johnny Flynn and Mark Rylance in “The Outfit” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

The suspenseful thriller “The Outfit” keeps viewers guessing about who are the heroes and who are the villains. It’s a well-crafted movie with a very talented cast that brings impressive energy to this unique story. If people ever say that good old-fashioned mystery films aren’t being made anymore, then point them in the direction of “The Outfit.” It pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock-influenced films of the mid-20th century while avoiding being a misguided, “stuck in a time warp” mess.

“The Outfit,” which takes place in 1956, is the feature-film directorial debut of Graham Moore. He won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, for 2014’s “The Imitation Game,” another well-made movie about an intelligent British man who gets caught up in a web of lies and treacherous conspiracies. Moore co-wrote the “The Outfit” screenplay with Jonathan McClain.

Unlike the sprawling settings of “The Imitation Game,” the setting of “The Outfit” is contained entirely in one place: the small clothing shop of Leonard Burling (played by Mark Rylance), a British immigrant who has been living in Chicago for the past several years. It would be easy for viewers to assume that “The Outfit” was adapted from a stage play, but this movie has an original screenplay.

Leonard’s specialty is high-priced, custom-made men’s suits. He also does clothing repairs. He’s very meticulous and takes pride in his work. He’s also quick to tell people that he’s a cutter, not a tailor. As time goes on in the movie, viewers see that the movie’s title of “The Outfit” has a double meaning: the type of clothing that Leonard can make and the gang syndicate that causes the dangerous predicament that Leonard becomes involved with in this movie.

Leonard is a reclusive, middle-aged bachelor with no children. He lives alone in a back area of the shop. Leonard has one employee: a woman in her 20s named Mable (played by Zoey Deutch), who is the shop’s administrative assistant/receptionist. She has a perky personality and is very reliable. However, Mable is honest in telling Leonard that she doesn’t love his line of work and only has this job to make enough money to pay her bills. Her dream is to travel around the world, including go to Paris, a city that has a special place in her heart.

Leonard tells people that he moved from the United Kingdom to Chicago because the popularity of denim clothing made his bespoke line of work fairly obsolete in his native country, where he used to have a shop on London’s Savile Row. Leonard’s reason for immigrating to America doesn’t sound very plausible, because denim clothing is popular in the United States too. Leonard is very private and doesn’t divulge much about his personal life, although he mentions that he served in the British military during World War I.

Among the people who are Leonard’s loyal clients are some local Irish gangsters. Leonard stays out of the gang’s dirty dealings and doesn’t pass judgment. The wealthy Irish mob boss in the area is named Roy Boyle (played by Simon Russell Beale), who doesn’t appear until about halfway through the movie. Roy is grooming his only son Richie Boyle (played by Dylan O’Brien), who’s in his 20s or early 30s, to eventually take over the gang’s business.

However, Richie has a rival for this position of power: a cunning manipulator named Francis (played by Johnny Flynn), who’s about five to eight years older than Richie. Francis was orphaned at an early age and taken in by Roy as somewhat of a foster son. Francis is as cold and calculating as Richie is hot-headed and impulsive. Richie feels a lot of jealousy and resentment toward Francis, whom Richie suspects is his father Roy’s top choice to be Roy’s successor as the mob leader. Richie gripes to Leonard about Francis: “He not even Irish!”

Something happens during this story that forces Leonard to be caught in increasingly elaborate deceptions and traps involving a coveted surveillance tape and a missing person. Complicating matters, Francis and Mable are romantically involved with each other. All of the cast members give exemplary performances, but Rylance is the obvious standout because his Leonard character is the most complex. Nikki Amuka-Bird shares top billing in “The Outfit” as an enigmatic woman named Violet, but viewers should know that Violet gets very limited screen time (about five minutes) toward the end of the film. After a somewhat slow-paced start, “The Outfit” goes on a thrilling ride that keeps viewers on edge throughout this entire memorable mystery.

Focus Features released “The Outfit” in select U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022. UPDATE: Peacock will premiere “The Outfit” on May 2, 2022.

Review: ‘Flashback’ (2021), starring Dylan O’Brien, Hannah Gross, Emory Cohen, Keir Gilchrist and Maika Monroe

June 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Emory Cohen, Dylan O’Brien and Keir Gilchrist in “Flashback” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Flashback” (2021)

Directed by Christopher MacBride

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “Flashback” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man in his early 30s tries to figure out why he’s having confusing nightmarish visions and memories of when he was in high school. 

Culture Audience: “Flashback” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching incoherent movies that are boring.

Maika Monroe in “Flashback” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

The generically titled “Flashback” was originally titled “The Education of Frederick Fitzell.” There are at least three other feature films titled “Flashback,” and this one certainly won’t be considered the best. “Flashback” is an ironic title for this movie because it’s so forgettable. In addition to having an incoherent and nonsensical plot, “Flashback” is exceedingly monotonous and a waste of the film’s talented cast members, who have all been in much better movies.

“Flashback” is supposed to be a psychological thriller, but the only thrill anyone might feel is when this slow train wreck of a movie finally ends. It’s one of those movies that people might keep watching with the hope that it might get better or that the story’s big mystery might reveal interesting answers. But “Flashback” fails to deliver anything intriguing on almost every level.

Written and directed by Christopher MacBride, “Flashback” takes place in an unnamed U.S. city but was actually filmed in Canada. The movie begins with Frederick “Fred” Fitzell (played by Dylan O’Brien) and his wife Karen (played by Hannah Gross) getting some bad news about Fred’s terminally ill, widowed mother (played by Liisa Repo-Martell), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie. Mrs. Fitzell’s physician Dr. Phillips (played by Donald Burda) informs Fred and Karen that Mrs. Fitzell has no more than two days to live.

The news is devastating, of course, but this movie then goes on a long and confused ramble about Fred’s hallucinations and flashback memories. Fred, who in his early 30s, has just started a new job as an information analyst at a company that does data analysis. Fred and Karen, who are happily married, have recently moved to a new apartment. They don’t have children but want to start a family.

Fred’s new job is the type where he has to wear a suit, and he works in a generically bland office in a generically bland cubicle. His boss Evelyn (played by Amanda Brugel) wants Fred to succeed, but recently he’s been slacking off by showing up late. And there’s a big upcoming presentation that he’s in charge of that Evelyn doubts that Fred will be able to handle. Fred assures her that he’s got everything under control.

What’s the reason for Fred being so distracted? He’s been having nightmarish hallucinations that involve memories of people he knew in high school. And some of the people in his hallucinations (which happen at various hours of the day or night) are people who are strangers to him.

One day, while Fred is in his car in an alley, he sees one of the strangers from his hallucinations—a scarred man (played by Connor Smith), who aggressively approaches the car. Fred is able to drive off before anything bad happens. The other strangers who regularly appear in his hallucinations are a tattooed woman (played by Maika Harper), a horned man (played by Ian Matthews), a pierced man (played by Aaron Poole) and a 12-year-old boy (played by Andrew Latter), who likes to wear hoodies.

The boy talks to Fred by saying one word with each sighting, like a message that Fred needs to put together. In one of the boy’s messages, he says, “I’m in your lobby.” When Fred goes to his apartment building’s lobby, he’s led on the type of wild goose chase that this movie is filled with, as time-wasting gimmicks.

One of the people Fred knew from high school was a former love interest named Cindy (played by Maika Monroe), whom Fred hasn’t seen or spoken to in the 13 years since he was in high school. Cindy keeps appearing in his dreams in a scenario where she seems to be in distress and says, “Fred, don’t let me go.” Fred can’t shake the feeling that Cindy is in danger.

He goes home to look at his high school yearbooks and notices that one of the yearbooks has Cindy’s class photo marked over with a dark pen, so that her face isn’t showing. What does it all mean? Don’t expect “Flashback” to give any clear answers.

The rest of the movie is a combination of Fred’s flashback memories, more hallucinations and scenes of Fred struggling with his mental health when these visions become too much for him. Fred goes back to his alma mater Fairgate High School and talks to an elderly schoolteacher named Mrs. Shouldice (played by Jill Frappier), who knew Fred and Cindy when they went to the school. The teacher says that Cindy never graduated because she just disappeared with no forwarding address.

Mrs. Shouldice also mentions the fictional psychedelic pill drug Mercury, and that student use of the drug was like a rampant plague in the school back then. Somehow, this triggers Fred’s memories of his experiences taking Mercury (also known as Merc) with Cindy and two other students he used to hang out with in high school: sleazy drug dealer Sebastian Bellamy (played by Emory Cohen) and eccentric misfit Andre (played by Keir Gilchrist). Does Fred try to find these former classmates? Of course he does.

This movie wastes a lot of time with psychedelic hallucinations that don’t go anywhere. There are also flashback memories to Fred’s childhood when he was a baby (played by Parker Antal and Emmett Antal) and when he was 6 years old (played by Myles Isen), which don’t give much insight into his family background, except to show that his mother sometimes got impatient with him.

Fred’s present-day life is also shoddily written. In several scenes, it’s shown that he likes to draw sketches of people. He even sketches people during boring business meetings. Is Fred’s interest in art explained in the movie? No. It’s one of many examples of how “Flashback” has a frustrating tendency to introduce things that look like it might add depth to the characters or might bring some substance to the story, but it’s just another unnecessary distraction.

The actors’ performances in the movie aren’t terrible, but they look like they’re going through the motions and don’t really have any deep emotional connections to the characters they’re portraying. That’s because the dialogue is just so bland and often terribly written. The movie’s cinematography is frequently cheap-looking and ugly.

And no amount of editing tricks can cover up that this movie is just an insipid, muddled mess. “Flashback” isn’t completely useless though. The movie is so dull that it can actually be used as an effective way to fall asleep.

Lionsgate released “Flashback” in select U.S. cinemas and VOD on June 4, 2021, and on digital, Blu-ray and DVD on June 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Love and Monsters,’ starring Dylan O’Brien

October 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dylan O’Brien in “Love and Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Love and Monsters”

Directed by Michael Matthews

Culture Representation: Taking place in California and other parts of the U.S., the sci-fi/horror/adventure film “Love and Monsters” has a predominantly white cast (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) portraying the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 24-year-old man goes on a quest to reunite with his former high-school sweetheart during an apocalypse in which deadly mutant monsters have taken over the world.

Culture Audience: “Love and Monsters” will appeal to several generations of people who like sci-fi/horror movies that successfully blend other genres, such as comedy, action, romance and drama.

Jessica Henwick in “Love and Monsters” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Even though “Love and Monsters” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which mutant monsters have killed off about 95% of the human population, the movie is not a grim and horrific slog that many people would expect it to be. In fact, “Love and Monsters” (directed by Michael Matthews) has a lot of charming comedy as well as heartfelt dramatic moments that can appeal to a wide variety of people. It’s the type of winning movie that people would want to see repeatedly and ask for a sequel. (And the end of the “Love and Monsters” definitely leaves open the possibility that there could be a continuation of the story.)

The central character of “Love and Monsters” is Joel Dawson (played by Dylan O’Brien), a 24-year-old “regular guy,” who lives in an underground bunker with several other young people who are under the age of 40. Apocalypse survivors who live together as a community call themselves a colony. According to Joel’s voiceover narration in the beginning of the movie, the apocalypse (which is called the Monsterpocalypse) happened when chemical compounds from bombs rained back down on Earth and caused animals to mutate into giant monsters.

The monsters killed most of the world’s human population within a year. The survivors fled underground, they live in colony bunkers, and go above ground in hunting parties to search for food. In addition to food that they find above ground, the members of Joel’s colony survive by growing their own food inside the bunker. They also have a cow for milk.

“Love and Monsters” takes place seven years after the Monsterpocalypse began. Joel is an orphan whose parents were killed right when the apocalypse started while the family was trying to escape the monsters that invaded their neighborhood. Joel (who is an only child) is originally from Fairfield, California, a city about 45 miles northeast of San Francisco. Like most apocalypse survivors, Joel doesn’t have any biological family members who are still alive.

Joel has found a new family with the colony of survivors who rescued him when the apocalypse began. However, Joel feels like somewhat of an outsider in the group. All of the other members of the colony have coupled up (and one couple has had a baby together), while Joel is the only one who doesn’t have a love partner. He also gets scared easily and freezes up when he sees monsters. Therefore, the colony doesn’t consider Joel to be useful for hunting trips and anything that would involve defending their colony from danger.

However, Joel is good at fixing things, he’s loves to draw, and he’s the colony’s main cook. One of the gadgets that Joel likes to tinker with is the bunker’s portable radio, which is the main way that colonies communicate with each other. (Television, phones and the Internet don’t exist in this world.)

Through a lot of investigating and persistence, Joel has found out that his first love, Aimee (played by Jessica Henwick), who was his girlfriend in high school, is living in a colony about 85 miles away in a place called Jenner Beach. He makes contact with Aimee, and she seems thrilled to hear from Joel. Over a period of time, they continue to talk to each other over the radio. And Joel finds himself falling in love with Aimee again.

When Joel and Aimee dated in high school (the movie has a few brief flashback scenes to this time period), their romance was interrupted because they were forced to flee separately with their respective families during the apocalypse. And then, Joel and Aimee lost touch with each other, until now. Because Joel feels like the “odd man out” in his colony, he’s starting to wonder if he really belongs there.

Joel’s colony has a close call when a monster invades the bunker and nearly kills Joel, who is rescued just in time by some other people in the colony who shoot the monster and kill it. This incident causes Joel’s self-esteem to take another hit because he believes that the other members of the colony think of him as a cowardly wimp. This near-death experience and his yearning to reunite with Aimee motivate Joel to say goodbye to his colony to go above ground and try to reunite with Aimee.

The members of Joel’s colony are disappointed to see him go and they’re very skeptical that Joel will be able to survive this trip on his own. But Joel is determined to go. All they can do is wish him well. One of the members of the colony gives him a map, while Joel takes some other items on the trip, including weapons and a portable radio that hasn’t worked in a long time.

Joel’s trip isn’t always dangerous, but it has a lot of close calls with a variety of giant mutant animals. One of the first that he encounters is a giant frog in someone’s abandoned backyard. Joel is rescued from the giant frog by an intelligent and expressive Australian Kelpie, which Joel calls Boy. This stray dog becomes Joel’s constant companion throughout most of the movie. And the scenes with Joel and Boy are among the best in “Love and Monsters.”

At another point in the movie, Joel accidentally falls into a pit that’s the nest of a creature called a sandgobbler. This time, he’s rescued by two humans: a middle-aged macho man named Clyde (played by Michael Rooker) and a sassy 8-year-old girl named Minnow (played by Ariana Greenblatt), who are not related to each other but are traveling together because their family members have died.

Minnow initially teases Joel over his tendency to get frightened easily, but Minnow eventually learns to respect Joel when he improves his target and defense skills. Clyde and Minnow are traveling north to a destination called Snow Mountain Wilderness, which has a colony of survivors who say the location is safer than other places because the cold and elevation keep the monsters away. The camaraderie between these three seemingly unlikely travel companions is also one of the highlights of “Love and Monsters.”

Clyde and Minnow invite Joel to go to Snow Mountain Wilderness with them. And when all three of the travelers reach the literal crossroads where Joel has to decide to go with Clyde and Minnow or continue west to reunite with Aimee, it’s easy to know what decision he will make. The rest of the movie takes a few twists and turns that refreshingly avoid a lot of predictable scenarios.

The visual effects for “Love and Monsters” are above-average, but they’re not going to win any major awards. The movie’s world building and how these creatures look are a commentary on the hazardous and deadly effects of humans who don’t take care of the environment. And the environment gets revenge on the humans in this apocalyptic way. The deadly mutant creatures include giant snails and what’s considered the most fearsome and worst mutant monster of them all: the Queen Sandgobbler, which looks like a giant mutant crab.

But not all of the monsters are deadly. Some of the giant creatures just want to be free to live without being hunted, and there’s a message in the movie about how monsters can be judged by looking at their eyes. It sounds a lot cornier than how it’s handled in the movie. One type of harmless creature is the sky jellyfish, which appear in one of the most touching and visually compelling scenes in the movie.

O’Brien, who was the star of “The Maze Runner” movie series, takes on a very different type of post-apocalyptic world in “Love and Monsters,” where humans are more likely to be helpful to each other, rather than have their lives revolve around the cutthroat and cruel competitions that are the basis of “The Maze Runner.” That doesn’t mean all is harmonious among people in the world of “Love and Monsters.” Someone can be expelled from a colony for stealing food, which is considered one of the worst crimes to commit in the “Love and Monsters” world.

The “Love and Monsters” screenplay was written by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson, who successfully mix various genres in the story. Most of the humor comes from Joel’s self-admitted awkwardness and insecurities, which many viewers will ultimately find endearing because he remains a humble person who’s a romantic at heart. Duffield also wrote and directed the critically acclaimed 2020 film “Spontaneous,” another Paramount Pictures movie about a young romance during a plague, although “Spontaneous” has a darker edge that’s geared to mature audiences. Thanks to assured direction, a genre-blending original story, and an appealing cast of characters, “Love and Monsters” is a crowd-pleaser that invites people into a world that’s very perilous to live in, but it’s a world that viewers will want to revisit and see what happens next.

Paramount Pictures released “Love and Monsters” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on October 16, 2020.

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