In horse racing, I find nothing more exhilarating than a horse unbeaten in two starts.
If the runs are spread wide apart it is even better.
It proves the horse is capable of backing up its debut performance; it proves in two training campaigns the horse is good enough to be twice superior; it proves that the horse is ready to tackle even better opposition, perhaps with no limits to its potential.
So it was with bemusement I discovered the film career of Graham Moore, director and co-writer of The Outfit (2022).
Moore had only been involved in one previous film. He co-wrote (with Andrew Hodges) The Imitation Game (2014), the story of Alan Turing and his team breaking Germany’s enigma code at Bletchley Park during World War II.
The writers won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Eight years later and in his second film, Moore is back and proved he can be twice superior. The Outfit is a triumph.
Co-written with actor-writer-producer Jonathan McClain (who curiously appeared in the credits of The Imitation Game with “The producers wish to thank John McClain”), The Outfit is a single-set, dialogue-based thriller set in 1956 Chicago (it was filmed in London).
Quite simply, it is the best thing I’ve seen in years.
Moore also directed the film and gives credit to The Imitation Game’s director, Morton Tyldum for being so inclusive during that film’s making. Moore was allowed to participate from rehearsal through to post production and used the knowledge gained to direct his own film.
The Outfit tells of a Savile Row-trained cutter, Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance), who runs a tailoring business in Chicago. He tells us his first-ever customer was Roy (Simon Russell-Beale), a gangster who controls the neighbourhood. Business flourished from there.
Moore said the story idea came from memories of his grandfather, who ran a small time medical practice in their native Chicago. One of his patients was a notorious mobster.
Moore and McClain then came across the fact that the first time the FBI ever used a bug was in a tailor shop in Chicago during the 1950s. Their story was about to bloom.
The Outfit begins with a Rylance voiceover, describing the craft of making a suit. He outlines the number of steps required, the different materials used and the understanding of the customer’s needs. It is a telling metaphor for what is about to happen.
Rylance’s performance is peerless and Moore describes in interviews the actor’s craftsmanship, something akin to when Leonard explains his job to his receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch):
“This isn’t art, it is a craft. You cannot make something good until you understand your customers.”
During filming of The Outfit, Rylance created a company environment among all the actors from the less-than 10 speaking parts and the walk-ons too. He emphasised to the company that they were “playing” together.
Early in rehearsal, Rylance asked Moore how much of his feelings did he want him to show: “40%, 60%, 80%?” Moore was then able to issue directorial instructions to the famous actor, using numbers.
It shows. Rylance’s facial expressions and delivery of speech are so perfect, they engage the viewer from start to two-hour finish. Leonard sees and hears everything the viewer sees or hears and the one-set location becomes almost another character.
By filming from different angles through different scenes, the ongoing dialogue and plot has different and interesting backgrounds. Leonard never leaves the shop so why should the camera leave the shop? It all adds to the film’s tension and beauty.
Leonard Burling is an excellent craftsman. So too is Mark Rylance.
With a win-loss record of two from two, you can add Graham Moore.
GRAHAM MOORE INTERVIEW