While watching The clothea new film from director Graham Moore, reminded me of the classic Detective – not in terms of specific plot points but in the way the film uses misdirection to increase the level of suspense, and also in the use of a limited number of characters and a confined setting. To be fair, The clothe is not Detective
(though arguably a better movie than Kenneth Branagh’s re-imagining/remake of the latter film), but it’s an engaging caper/mind game in which to watch the characters interacting is as fun as extracting the truth.
The clothe takes place in 1956 Chicago. A Savile Row tailor (or, as he prefers to be called, a “cutter”) named Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) has crossed the Atlantic in search of a fresh start after the post-war passion for blue jeans left him with dim prospects in London. He found favor with the head of an Irish mobster family, Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale), who offered him a workshop in exchange for favors. Today, Burling’s isn’t exactly a thriving business, but Leonard has enough work to keep it busy and allow him to keep a receptionist, Mable (Zoey Deutch). His shop, however, is not entirely his. It is used by Boyle’s associates, particularly his son, Richie (Dylan O’Brien), and Richie’s partner, Francis (Johnny Flynn), as a meeting place. Things start to go awry when Richie and Francis realize there’s a mole in the organization. The tension mounts and everyone is suspected, including the discreet and respectful tailor. When Richie and Francis face off, the situation turns deadly with Leonard and Mable caught in the middle of a dangerous power play.
Although the film opens well before the 2022 Oscar season, I’ll try to remember Rylance’s name when it comes to listing the best performances of the year, because this one is worth noting. Normally a character actor, Rylance rarely gets the chance to face production like he does here. His portrayal of Leonard, stable and impenetrable, calls into question his work in bridge of spies (for which he won the Academy Award for Supporting Actor) and hall of wolves
(for which he was nominated for an Emmy) as the best he has done in his career. The year is still young, but I can’t think of another actor who has stood out so strongly.
Leonard tells the story and his words are sometimes misleading, allowing the viewer to think something different than what is actually happening. From scene to scene, Leonard seems like a different person, playing on the weaknesses of others as his true nature and motivations are revealed. Moore isn’t cutting the rug for us with a Keyzer Soze-style shock, but we’re constantly reassessing what Leonard stands for as the story unfolds. In the closing minutes (which effectively form an epilogue), the film goes too far, inexplicably opting for a Hollywood-style twist that clashes with the fluidity of the previous 90+ minutes. Although one final piece of Leonard’s personality puzzle is revealed, the sequence overall seems pointless and at odds with the rest of the film.
Exist in Rylance’s shadow (since, given the strength of his performance, there’s nowhere to be) are veteran Simon Russell Beale, Dylan O’Brien (who played Thomas in the maze runner
movies), and Johnny Flynn, all of whom are effective in their respective roles. The cast includes two women: Zoey Deutch, who isn’t always convincing as a 1950s woman, and Nikki Amuka-Bird, who plays the frontman of the LaFontaines, the Boyles’ rival to find favor with the mysterious “Outfit.” (of which we say own Chicago and has ties to the late Al Capone).
Although there are gunshots and a count of the dead, The clothe does not focus on blood and gore. The dramatic tension in the film comes from the interactions between Leonard and everyone else. When he tells Richie he’s the mole, is he kidding? Tell the truth? Or something in between? Like Richie, we don’t know whether to believe it or not. Leonard plays the same games with everyone, constantly hinting that he may not be as simple and straightforward as he seems. And what about his story and the supposed reasons why he left England? The most compelling aspect of The clothe
watch as the layers of Leonard’s character are peeled off like the skin of an onion.
In the end, the story gets a bit too convoluted and the resolution is overdone but, for the most part, the twists and turns keep the viewer engaged, the puzzle pieces fit together on a second viewing, and Rylance never ceases to mesmerize. . And, although Moore most likely filmed The clothe for big-screen exposure, the material translates well to a smaller one, making it a good fit for the changing nature of today’s cinema.
Outfit, The (US, 2022)