The Outfit

Leonard slumped over his cutting table

Why didn’t someone think of it sooner? The Outfit – could be a criminal organisation, could be something you’d wear. How about writing a drama that conflates and confuses the two, and make it about… er… a tailor who somehow gets caught up in the work of a criminal establishment.

The conceit is worn transparent in Graham Moore’s debut as a feature director. Like a bespoke suit this is a handsomely assembled item, made from fine materials and put together with care and a conservative eye. It’s also more than slightly theatrical, and it would be easy to imagine events playing out in a darkened small theatre.

Events? A bit of plot. We meet Leonard, aka “English”, a Savile Row cutter (he disdains the word “tailor”) somehow now based in 1950s Chicago, where he acts as something of a front and dead-letter drop for a local mob, whose mooks, Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and Francis (Johnny Flynn) pay him regular calls. It hasn’t escaped Leonard’s sharp if downcast eye that Richie and his secretary-cum-surrogate-daughter Mable (Zoey Deutch) have something going on. Richie is the crime boss’s possibly over-advanced son, Francis the newboy upstart who might… you know… like newboy upstarts tend to in gangster movies. But that all happens later on. For the moment we’re enjoying Rylance playing his scenes with Deutch full of “if I were 30 years younger” pathos.

Later, there is gunplay, some scores are settled, it turns out that the FBI have planted a bug in Leonard’s shop, and there might be a rat – Leonard? Mable? Richie? Francis? Surely not Roy (Simon Russell Beale), the boss kingpin?

Richie and Mable
Something between Richie and Mable?



There is death and tension but mostly there is a lot of talking, in scenes which Moore and co-writer Johnathan McClain design as one-on-one encounters. In turn each of the actors gets a little masterclass with Mark Rylance. They all do well – Deutch as the sweet, sexy possibly more-dangerous-than-she-looks Mable, O’Brien (suddenly no longer the eternal teenager) as the weak young man hiding in his father’s shadow, Flynn as the smart, ambitious lieutenant… until eventually Simon Russell Beale turns up in scenes where Roy is wondering where his son Richie has got to, leading to what’s designed as the film’s high point. An acting slam between Rylance and Beale. It’s interesting to watch, each man edging the other towards a charge of upstaging by underacting. A kind of theatrical “After you!” “No, after you.”

Three of the five big roles are being handled by Brits – Flynn (born in South Africa, raised in the UK), Rylance, Beale – and along with the theatrical atmosphere generated by the slightly heightened acting style, the performative soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat and the deliberately nicotine/sepia cinematography by Dick Pope, the impression given is of a film flying its theatrical flag proudly.

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone watching that the meek tailor, sorry, cutter, has a bit more backstory than at first appears. There’s a reason why he fled “the Row” and, going back even further, a reason why he found himself on Savile Row in the first place, the home of bespoke tailoring/cutting/whatever. And it helps explain how come a weary and defeated-looking man can actually be one if not two steps ahead of the bad guys most of the time.

It is all very well tailored and finely crafted and the total effect, possibly intentionally, is of being held at arm’s length for the duration. A bit like being fitted for a suit and being turned this way and that as an expert runs a tape measure over your body.





The Outfit – watch it/buy it at Amazon




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© Steve Morrissey 2022









Love and Monsters

Dylan O'Brien and cute dog

 

I’ve sat through more post-apocalyptic teen adventure flicks – Hunger Games, The Giver, three flavours of Divergent, Maze Runner etc – and not really enjoyed any of them. “They’re not for you,” a mate at work once remarked. And as I whinged some more about one or other of them, she nodded pityingly towards my greying hair.

They’re not, it’s true, but even so I loved Love and Monsters, a post-apocalyptic teen adventure flick that gets by without any hat tips to Ayn Rand – rugged individual against the overweening state etc etc – and sets out its stall immediately with a voiceover by Joel (Maze Runner star Dylan O’Brien) explaining that the world as we knew it has ended, that cold-blooded animals have become huge and predatory and that humanity is 95% gone. The US President, Joel matter-of-factly tells us, was killed by a moth.

The humans who are left now live in isolated groups, communicating by radio when they can, and scavenge for food, batteries, useful stuff, in hunting packs. But not Joel. He’s too much the scaredy-cat and goes to pieces in a crisis. A liability in a scrap, he stays back at base and makes minestrone for his valiant fellow commune-dwellers, a vegetable-based soup saying as much as we need to know about Joel’s status (perhaps Ayn Rand is lurking after all).

All this changes when Joel discovers that Aimee (Jessica Henwick), the love of his life, has actually survived the holocaust and is alive and well a perilous 85-mile trek away. Bidding farewell to his comrades, who rate his chances of survival as zero, off he sets on what becomes a Revenant-style man v oversized-nature trek across the wilderness, Joel’s cojones growing larger with every successful encounter.

 

A monster and a giant duck
Not-too-threatening monster face-off

 

Tone is everything in this film, which from first moment to the last skitters between flip and frightening, engaged yet ironic. The voiceover is the start of it but as Joel heads out on his quest, his encounters add reinforcement, first a cute dog with a nose for trouble, and then a pair of battle-hardened surface dwellers – grizzled, practical Clyde (Michael Rooker) and precocious, sarcastic eight-year-old Minnow (Ariana Greenblat) – who also make clear that a life cowering underground is not the only option.

Tone and creatures, lots of creatures. These new rulers of the planet tend to be massive but they’re not always aggressive. So while some have gargantuan maws arrayed with teeth dripping with digestive juices, others seem to have sprung from the muppetty mind of Jim Henson.

All in all, though, this is an unthreatening creature feature, perhaps modelled on the 1959 Journey to the Centre of the Earth starring James Mason, though far less inclinded to hang about – it moves at a pace as urgent as Joel’s desire to see Aimee again.

Though Dylan O’Brien is now nudging 30 – how quickly they grow – the onetime Teen Wolf actor gets away with playing a few years younger. This is handy because you have to buy into the character of the greenhorn who is not only on a journey to find the ever-receding Aimee but also on a search for the hero inside himself.

A heroic boy-to-man story with the emotional arc and plot beats of Star Wars – there’s even a talking robot – it also has a satisfying finale featuring a hissable villain who gets his comeuppance in spectacular style.

Heroic entertainment with a swagger.

 

 

Love and Monsters – watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

 

 

© Steve Morrissey 2020