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.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Buffaloed’

May 1, 2019

by Carla Hay

Zoey Deutch in "Buffaloed"
Zoey Deutch in “Buffaloed” (Photo by Guy Godfree)

“Buffaloed”

Directed by Tanya Wexler

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

What’s an ambitious girl to do when she needs money to go to an Ivy League university but she can’t afford it? Turn to a life of crime, of course. That’s pretty much the story of Peg Dahl (manically played by Zoey Deutch) in the over-the-top comedy “Buffaloed.” The movie gets its name from Peg’s hometown of Buffalo, New York, where she was raised by a working-class, single mother named Kathy (played by Judy Greer), who doesn’t think Peg needs an Ivy League education to be a success. From an early age, Peg has had an obsession about escaping from Buffalo by attending an Ivy League school and becoming a rich and successful businessperson.

Peg’s dream starts to come true when she’s accepted into an Ivy League school, but she panics after her mother is turned down for financial aid. (Her mother supposedly makes too much money to qualify.) Peg presumably doesn’t have outstanding-enough grades to qualify for an academic scholarship either. And, of course, there would be no “Buffaloed” movie if Peg did what most people do when they can’t afford college tuition—take out a loan. So with no way to afford the tuition and with the deadline approaching to pay the tuition, Peg uses desperate measures and begins selling counterfeit tickets at Buffalo Bills games. Most movies at this point would have had Peg get away with the crime, head off to school, and continue to cook up schemes to pay for her tuition. But this is not that film.

Instead, Peg gets busted early on in the film, and she gets sentenced to 40 months in prison. Goodbye, Ivy League. One of the scenes that shows that “Buffaloed” is taking the campy, not-to-be-taken-seriously route is the chaotic environment of Peg’s trial, where the judge is eating sauce-covered Buffalo wings on the bench. When Peg gets out of prison, she is bitter, disillusioned and in debt. Her legal bills total $50,000, and being a criminal convicted of fraud has greatly reduced her chances of getting a decent job.

So let’s get this straight: Before she went to prison, Peg supposedly wasn’t able to afford an expensive Ivy League education, but she didn’t want to take out a student loan. Now she’s got $50,000 in legal bills because apparently she didn’t want to use a public defender, which is what you’re supposed to do if you can’t afford an expensive attorney. Right. Let’s move on.

Enter a character who opens a window of opportunity for Peg: Sal Scarpetta (played by “Buffaloed” screenwriter Brian Sacca, one of the film’s producers), who works for the town’s top debt-collection agency, which is hounding Peg to pay her debts. Peg and Sal first communicate over the phone when he calls her about her debt. Since the collection agency already knows about her ex-con background, and Peg finds out how much money she could be making if she worked there, it’s not long before she shows up at the agency and asks for a job.

Sal’s boss is Josh “Wizz” Wisnewski (played by Jai Courtney, hamming it up in the villain role), who runs the sleazy agency. Wizz is a sexist bully who’s reluctant to hire Peg in his aggressive, male-dominated environment. But through persistence, Peg convinces Wizz to hire her, and she makes a deal with him to erase all of her debt if she can become the company’s top debt-collector in one month.

Peg soon finds out that Wizz’s operation engages in many illegal practices, including “double-dipping,” a term used to keep billing someone for debt that has already been paid. Peg is so determined to become the top employee that she drives to Ohio to visit an elderly woman with a 20-year-debt (and Peg even brings cupcakes as part of her manipulation), because she figures that the old lady is a prime target for Peg to pull a double-dipping scam on her.

The rest of the movie veers off into a number of twists and turns, including Peg going to war with Wizz for reasons that won’t be spoiled in this review. It’s enough to say that Wizz’s “mob boss” mentality and use of extreme intimidation tactics are examples of the caricature-like silliness in this movie. Somehow, Peg’s mother Kathy, Peg’s brother JJ (played by Noah Reid) and Wizz’s brother Mitch (played by Nicholas Carella) get pulled into these shenanigans. There’s also a subplot where Peg gets romantically involved with the assistant district attorney who prosecuted her: Graham Feany (played by Jermaine Fowler), who knows she’s involved in illegal money-making schemes, but he looks the other way as long as she doesn’t tell him all the details.

“Buffaloed” director Tanya Wexler keeps a madcap pace throughout the movie that works in some areas and doesn’t work in others. Deutch (who is one of the film’s producers) takes on the role of Peg with admirable gusto. However, since Peg can’t seem to get out of Buffalo (something that’s she’s been wanting to do her whole life), and she gets caught early on for a felony crime, Peg is not as smart as the movie wants you to think she is. Unfortunately, the third act is such a mess that only a major rewrite could save the film.

The tone of “Buffaloed” is very uneven: It starts off as a dark comedy, and then turns giddy and almost sentimental in the end. “Buffaloed” could have had much better social commentary on the stresses of paying for college tuition and the extreme lengths people might go to get money for it. Instead, it devolves into an inconsistent whirling mix of under-developed characters and ill-conceived plotlines, just like an electric blender that turns a hodgepodge of ingredients into mush.

 UPDATE: Magnolia Pictures will release “Buffaloed” in select U.S. theaters and VOD on February 14, 2020.

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