Set in 1950s Chicago, “The Outfit” is an effective period crime drama with many twists. Mark Rylance, as always, delivers a great performance as the war-withered tailor Leonard Burling. Zoey Deuth as Mable, in the little time she was on screen, also gave a solid performance. Here, we shall try to break down these two characters, and others if need be, and try to understand them better.
“The Outfit” is a period crime drama that is set in 1950s Chicago, America. Leonard Burling is a “cutter,” an English tailor, who lives in 1956 Chicago and has his tailor shop there as well. The neighborhood is owned by gangster Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale) and his mob, which uses Leonard’s shop as the front for their money laundering business. This doesn’t affect Leonard, as the Boyles are among his best customers. However, when Ritchie Boyle (Dylan O’Brien), Roy’s son, and Francis (Johnny Flynn), Roy’s right-hand man, turn up with a recording that can expose the mobs’ dealings, Boyle’s as well as La Fontaine’s (Nikki Amuka-Bird), to the FBI, Leonard has to find a way to survive the night. What follows is a long chain of events and twists that result in a completely unexpected outcome, one with Leonard as the lone survivor.
Leonard Burling: The Cutter
Leonard Burling excels at keeping things in order, organized, and planned. This we see from the very beginning of the film when he begins to explain how a suit is made. It is only at the end of the film that we come to know that he was also a member of a mob and made his living with a gun, sometimes “just my bare hands.” It is interesting how the film gives a former gang member the profession of a tailor. Leonard’s mention of his “bare hands” is significant here because it is his hands and their precision that make him good, both at killing a person as well as tailoring a suit. Furthermore, the film is divided into parts, with each part being a step in the process of tailoring a suit.
Measurement: You Cannot Make Something Good Until You Understand Who You’re Making It For.
The first step clearly means how Leonard researched the Boyles before moving on to his next step. He spent many years earning the trust of Roy Boyle, his son Ritchie, the mob, and perhaps the whole Boyle family. What’s interesting is that while Leonard explains how one needs to understand the person before crafting a suit for him, we see everything that goes on at his shop, including the messages that are dropped by members of different gangs. This helps us take a measure of everything, just as Leonard wants.
Here, we get to know about Leonard’s relationship with Mable. She has been working under him for years now. They share a father-daughter relationship, with Leonard being the father who cares for their daughter and Mable being the daughter who wants her father to let her go and see the world. Inversely, Leonard states that he doesn’t need her to care for him, while Mable doesn’t want Leonard to be alone after she leaves. The silence that follows after “You’re not my…” clearly states the irony that lies in words and affection for each other. Later on, he overhears Ritchie’s words to Mable about how he doesn’t like Francis and his father’s love for Francis. Surely enough, this is a piece of intel that he makes use of later on to turn Ritchie against Francis.
Drawing: The Point Now is Skill
This one is chalking out the plan where he mentions the importance of paying attention to the patterns of the “drawing,” in other words, noticing the whereabouts of the different people and their behavioral “patterns.” This is where he replaces the letters of “The Outfit” gang with his own recordings. This would only turn Ritchie and Francis against each other, leading to Ritchie’s death, and then finally to Boyle’s death and Mable’s freedom. The way he turns the events in his favor and towards a favorable end is nothing short of commendable.
It is also during this second step that Leonard puts the recorded messages with the symbol of Outfit inside the letterbox, a plan that has been taking shape for months. After Ritchie is shot, Leonard wins over Francis, too, first by sewing Ritchie up and then by mentioning how he has never judged them or their work. In this way, Francis too reveals to Leonard the tape inside the case, thereby compromising himself to Leonard’s good fortune. Again, Leonard adds to Ritchie’s trust by making conversation.
It is made clear how he leads both Ritchie and Leonard into thinking that the other is the rat. Later on, we get yet another sign of Leonard’s affection for Mable when he defends her and tells Roy that she could never be the rat. He also reveals how he lost his wife Vera and little daughter Lily due to a fire at his shop (in Savile Row, probably), and that is the reason he came to Chicago to escape from the pain. It is towards the end of the film that we find out that while in London, he was also a member of a criminal organization. However, he tried to escape and hide after declining a job, following which he learned tailoring, married his wife, and had a daughter. But his organization found him and set his Savile-Row shop on fire, killing his wife and child.
But all this is a part of the plan as well, so that he can prevent them from hurting Mable. It also allows him to plan his upcoming movies. From sending Roy out to find his son to saving Mable to getting Francis killed by La Fontaine, Leonard basically goes for a clean-house. He even plants a bug to record everything that happens that evening to have Mable give it to the FBI. Even after everything that happens, all that Leonard wants is for Mable to live her life the way she wants. This does prove that he still has the care in him that he could not provide for his daughter. And to ensure that Mable is out of danger, he lets her go.
Finishing: True Perfection Is Impossible
It makes sense that he uses the shears to kill Francis, the same shears that his wife gave him and with which he brings an end to the Boyle crime syndicate. His wife’s gift is what he turns into a weapon to bring an end to the very cause of her death. He tells us that if one doesn’t aim for perfection, one cannot make anything great. Clearly, everything he has done in the movie is certainly perfect, and that is why he does achieve greatness in our eyes. In talking about his craftsmanship as a tailor, Leonard rightfully boasts of the method that he uses to take revenge on the crime family.
Yet, he also mentions how true perfection is impossible. This basically means that the perfection obtained after the completion of a single suit means that one has to lay out the tools, and start making a new one, all over again. In other words, he has to start planning to take down the next crime organization. His motive is the same, but his methods will have to change. This is just like every new suit is for a different person and thus has a different drawing and finishing. “Perfection” is to bring an end to the Roy crime syndicate. But “true perfection” is when he is able to bring an end to perhaps all the crime syndicates that he knows about or is connected to. So, this would also mean that the Roy crime family was in some way related to the criminal organization that he worked for. Is this a sign of a sequel? We hope so.
Mable was born and brought up in this neighborhood of Chicago. Her motivation is nothing but a rage that stems from how the criminal gangs have ruined the atmosphere. That she joined Leonard’s shop also seems like a strategic step. She joined after she came to know that the shop was a front for the Boyle family. She slept with Ritchie only so that she could gather Intel and sell it to La Fontaine, which would give rise to war between the two gangs. Scared that Francis’ paranoia would reveal her true intentions, she then helps the FBI plant a bug that would be proof of their criminal activities. All she did was so that she could, in her own way, take revenge on the gangs and then go on to live her life in Paris.
As for her relationship with Leonard, it’s love-hate. She doesn’t like it when Leonard shows how much he cares for her and has already set expectations on behalf of Leonard in her mind. This feeling is clearly a result of her relationship with her father. She states towards the beginning of the film that she hates her father a lot. Thus, it may have been that her father, too, had a lot of expectations from her, but she couldn’t live up to them. And it seems that the reason she wants to leave Chicago, after bringing an end to all the crime organizations, is that her father is also a gang member. However, this doesn’t stop her from caring for Leonard (when she says that she doesn’t want Leonard to be all alone), much like she probably couldn’t stop caring for her father. At the end of the film, she bids farewell to Leonard with a kiss symbolic of their father-daughter relationship.
“The Outfit” certainly fits its title in that it deals with a tailor, i.e., cutter, and his craftsmanship. Leonard excels in his craftsmanship in both ways, in creating a suit as well as giving shape to his motives. But to provide him with a touch of emotion, we have the perfect Mable, who serves as the emotional pillar upon which Leonard leans in the absence of his family.