Graham Moore’s directorial debut film, “The Outfit,” is a delightful crime drama, reminiscent of the old-school gangster stories of cinema and literature. At the center of this tale is an elderly English tailor, or cutter, as he keeps insisting, and his shop, where a gangster family takes shelter on a tensely long night. Much like the protagonist’s works, the film too is crafted very meticulously, with careful pacing that is slow and yet not drab, and with the camera always staying inside the shop (only a few scenes show the shop from the outside), which builds the air of suspense. Overall, “The Outfit” is a great watching experience and an easy recommendation to anyone remotely interested in the genre.
‘The Outfit’ Plot Summary
Leonard Burling ran a clothing shop as a cutter in Chicago in 1956, crafting customized suits and clothes for his affluent clients. Leonard sees his profession as almost a devotion, as he finally works his way around fabric and is quite proud of his work. He is helped around the shop by a young receptionist, Mable Shaun, who the man sees as his own daughter. Mable is not too fond of this, though, as she wants to make her place in the world without much assistance, and she dreams of leaving Chicago to settle somewhere better, in Paris or the likes.
However, there is a hidden side to their business as well, as the clothing shop is fitted with a small letterbox that is used by local gang members to contact each other about business dealings. Leonard was very used to this by now, as his first customer in town had been Roy Boyle, the head of the gangster family ruling the neighborhood. Roy’s son, Richie, and his most trusted henchman, Francis, are regular visitors to the shop, both for business as well as for their own hidden intentions.
Leonard, who likes to stay away from these things, suspects that Mable might be getting romantically inclined towards Richie and tries to warn her subtly, but to no effect. One night, as the man stays back at the shop, he overhears Richie and Mable enter the shop, possibly for romantic endeavors, but they leave, finding the old man (pretending to be) sleeping in the backroom. Leonard gets to know that the two are in some sort of relationship, and also that Richie does not trust his father’s favorite enforcer, Francis, as the man shares this with his lover.
A few days later, the Boyles find a package in the shop letterbox with a specific insignia on the envelope, a tape cassette, and a note inside claiming that the family has a “rat” or spy inside who has been spilling information outside. Leonard stays out of all of this as he keeps working his trade, but is directly brought into an involvement that night when the doorbell in his shop rings. Opening the door, he lets in Francis and Richie, who has been shot by their rival LaFontaine gang, as the two men take shelter at the shop from the police investigating their shootout. They carry with them a briefcase containing the cassette, and Francis reveals to the cutter that the FBI had planted a bug in one of their safehouses to record their plans, but the Boyles’ friends at “high places” had sent them a copy, warning them about it. The orders for Leonard are clear: he is to protect the briefcase and Richie Boyle with all his might as Francis leaves to get hold of a cassette player.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Who Is This ‘Rat’ In The Boyle Family?
Leonard has been forced by Francis to sew Richie’s wounds, and as the latter’s condition grows stable, the two men converse with each other. The experienced cutter realizes that Richie has his suspicions about Francis, and decides to make use of it. He presses all the right buttons metaphorically, reminding Richie how Francis is technically not a part of the family but an outsider indeed. When the doorbell rings again, marking Francis’ return, Leonard lets him in and says that Richie has been hinting that Francis is the rat, possibly because of a delusion from blood loss. This makes Francis quite wary, and when they open the briefcase to find it empty, the two men’s suspicions of each other are too great to let them even consider Leonard. Tempers rise, and words fly, and then Richie fires his gun at but misses Francis, who then shoots Richie dead in self-defense.
As the head of the family, Roy, arrives at the shop (he had been earlier telephoned and called to the shop by Francis), the murderer threatens Leonard into the act of covering up, and they hide Richie’s body inside a chest. When Roy comes to the backroom, he is told that his son had gone out in search of him and had even taken the cassette along, and now Roy sends Francis out to look for Richie, leaving him and the cutter alone in the shop (except for his burly bodyguard who follows him everywhere). Roy tells the man that the Boyles had been trying to become members of The Outfit, a criminal organization founded by Al Capone that connected every hotshot criminal gang and family with another and looked out for their members.
The Outfit had finally contacted them, in envelopes with their specific insignia, and it was they who warned the Boyles of the FBI planting a bug on them. The gangster then also reveals that he had noticed his son’s coat hanging in the corner of the room, and that he did not believe Richie had gone out looking for him.
Just as he starts interrogating the cutter, Mable walks into the shop, with Francis holding her hostage. Leonard shrewdly gauges the situation and says that Richie had been jealous and frustrated that Francis had shot four enemies while he couldn’t get any and so had left the shop, saying that he intended to kill the head of the LaFontaine family. Francis reveals that Mable has been Richie’s lover, and lies about bloodstains on her carpet, suggesting that he had gone to her place after leaving the shop, on his way over to the LaFontaines.
Leonard tries to vouch for Mable’s innocence, but to no avail, as the girl is dragged into a room for violent interrogation. But all of this is halted by the ringing telephone at the shop, which Leonard answers with an air of relief. He comes back to the backroom and claims that it was Richie calling to give an address where he was hiding from the LaFontaines, with the tape in his possession, and he wanted to meet his father there. Francis obviously realizes that the cutter and his receptionist are playing some tricks, and he manages to convince Roy to let him stay back in the shop, guarding the two, while Roy and his bodyguard go over to the address. Leonard now reveals that it was actually one of the Boyles saying that Richie could not be traced yet, who had called.
Francis points the gun at Mable, giving two options—either he kills her and claims that she had killed her lover, or that he kills both of them and puts the blame on both. But Leonard simply puts it out that Mable would be of great importance to their survival, as Roy Boyle would be ambushed by the LaFontaine gang at the address he had given him. The henchman confusedly asks how the LaFontaines would get to know of Roy’s location, and the cutter reveals that Mable would call them up and say it, for she is the rat inside the Boyle family, having sold off the information outside for quite some time now.
Who Really Is Leonard Burling—Just A Clever Tailor Or Something More Sinister?
The question that “The Outfit” poses in its plot, even before the introduction of any “rat,” is what is the true identity of Leonard and why has he left London? Mable, very early on, questions why he has settled in Chicago when he could have been anywhere in the world, and the elderly gentleman just says that he finds it comfortable here. But on this particular eventful night, Leonard seems to be in complete charge of whatever situation he finds himself in. There is an experienced sense of calmness and composure in him with which he turns Richie and Francis against each other, defuses his oldest client’s aggressive interrogations, and then makes use of the chance of having received a phone call. It is in this same manner that he now convinces Francis to betray his boss and let Mable inform the rival gang of his location, claiming that Francis would head the Boyle organization once Roy and his men were out of the scene.
Mable talks over the telephone and then informs the men that Madame LaFontaine herself wants to make a deal, offering cash in exchange for the tape, which Leonard had hidden by stitching it inside Richie’s coat, and now has taken out again. Soon the rival gang members arrive, and Francis hides inside a room with a plan of his own—he wants Mable to signal to him as soon as the LaFontaines hand over the money, and then he will shoot them dead and lead the Boyles into The Outfit. But the proceedings go just in the opposite manner; LaFontaine arrives and hands over the bag of money, but Leonard verbally pretends that the gang has not brought any money while informing them with hand signals about the hidden position of Francis. The LaFontaine bodyguards get into position, and Francis, too, runs into the room, pointing his gun at the rival leader, while the two bodyguards point their guns at him.
This standoff continues for a few seconds, but Leonard’s cunningness has not been limited by now. He lies that he had emptied Francis’ gun earlier that night, which makes Francis glance down at his bullet chamber and lose concentration. The two bodyguards realize the opportunity, as Francis would not be able to shoot Madame LaFontaine, and they shoot him down.
The LaFontaines soon leave with the cassette tape, and Leonard and Mable are finally back alone. The character of Leonard is always full of the most unexpected surprises. Right before Francis and Richie’s shootout, he made the smallest of movements, kicking a metal can, which resulted in a similar lapse of concentration. Whoever died, Leonard would continue planning his escape from the situation with the other in mind. The elderly craftsman now reveals his biggest surprise—the Outfit had never been in contact with the Boyles. He had suspected that Mable was in touch with the FBI, and had planted the entire cassette tape plot in his own head. He had faked the Outfit’s insignia onto envelopes and sent the cassette tape (which had recordings of his own insignificant thoughts on suits), claiming it to be one recorded by the FBI.
So while both the gangs spoke out openly about their violence that night, he had recorded all of it and asked Mable to turn it in with her friends at the FBI. Mable had acted as a spy to earn enough money from the Feds to allow her to leave the country, and also out of a deep dislike towards the Boyles, probably because her father had died working for them as a henchman. Leonard now insists that she take away all the money from the exchange deal and that she go out and live the life she wants.
‘The Outfit’ Ending Explained: Does Leonard Survive? What Was His Purpose In Bringing The Boyles Down?
After Mable leaves the shop, Leonard slowly gets dressed, ready to leave for one last time. He had earlier told the tragic tale of how his wife and daughter had been burnt to death when his shop and house caught fire back in London, a tale that by now seems to be not completely true. Either way, he has experience with fire, and he does the same thing now, setting fire to the clothes in the shop. However, just at this time, a wounded Francis wakes back up and tries to attack the cutter. In his final revelation, Leonard now tells of his earlier life in London as an enforcer in a gang, quite similar to Francis’ life. Rolling up his sleeves, he shows his gang tattoos and reveals that it all went wrong on a job, and he hid himself in Savile Row, where he learned stitching and set up a family. But the gang caught up with him, and it was they who had set fire to his house-cum-shop. The man now shoves off the injured Francis and stabs him to death with his trusted pair of shears. He then sets the entire shop on fire and walks out, ready to leave Chicago and settle down somewhere else in a new life.
Leonard had nothing against the Boyles. Rather, the gang family had always been nice to him. But with his age and experience, Leonard was very well aware of the dark violence hiding underneath such niceties that might jump up anytime it was convenient for them. He had lost his own daughter to such violence, and he refused to let it take away Mable as well. This ending is only a fitting piece to an entire craft that keeps one tense and thrilled to the very last, as the viewer is bound to shuttle between the expected and the unexpected. Added to all these, very convincing acting performances and an overall direction that sets the tone make “The Outfit” a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable crime drama.
“The Outfit” is a 2022 Drama Thriller film directed by Graham Moore.