Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB
USA, 2022. FilmNation Entertainment, Focus Features, Scoop Productions, Unified Theory. Screenplay by Johnathan McClain, Graham Moore. Cinematography by Dick Pope. Produced by Ben Browning, Amy Jackson, Scoop Wasserstein. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Production Design by Gemma Jackson. Costume Design by Sophie O’Neill, Zac Posen. Film Editing by William Goldenberg.
A claustrophobic setting steadily builds up tension as the story twists and turns in this tight, satisfying little thriller that marks the feature directorial debut of The Imitation Game‘s Oscar-winning screenwriter Graham Moore.
Mark Rylance, who in his middle age has decided to deliver every film performance as if he was up all night in a tree making cookies with his brothers, plays a bespoke tailor whose classy, elegant shop occupies an incongruous space on an otherwise rough Chicago street. His business is cutting and sewing high quality suits for his high-paying customers, with Zoey Deutch as his long-time faithful assistant running the store’s practical business needs.
All seems normal except for the two henchmen (Dylan O’Brien, Johnny Flynn) who work for one of the city’s most notorious mobsters (Simon Russell Beale) and who frequently pop in to the backroom where they collect messages in a mailbox placed there especially for them. Their boss more or less owns the neighbourhood and Rylance lets him conduct business from his shop as dues of payment, which he is happy to do because of his feeling a sense of debt to a man who has helped him in the past.
On one particular night, however, things go haywire when Beale’s two goons come in talking about an impending showdown with a rival gang, the existence of a surveillance tape that has recorded incriminating evidence against them, and the possibility that their own organization has a mole who is feeding information to the feds. Words are exchanged, suspicions aroused and guns are fired, and soon there’s a shell game of bodies being hidden and lies being told to cover things up for the next set of characters who enter the scene with dangerous, life-threatening questions. At the centre of it is Rylance himself, a seemingly innocent tailor who just wants to keep Deutch safe and who, at every new layer of the story, reveals secrets that show him to be more capable and involved than was initially assumed.
The plotting is so obsessively clever in Moore’s nifty puzzle that it rather overshoots the mark of perfection, things fit together so neatly that when the plot reveals another secret, it feels too convenient, as if it was engineered solely because the writers didn’t know how to get out of a tight spot. Rylance fools the other characters in the film but he doesn’t do the audience the same pleasure, there’s never a sense that you have the rug pulled out from under you and discover another narrative hidden beneath the one you are watching; quite the opposite, the surprises begin to feel more and more preposterous as the film wears on and the feeling is more like switching channels.
By the final act, other aspects of the film that started off stylish and committed begin to feel artificial and stagey, particularly the fact that it’s set in post-war Chicago but is clearly shot like a play being done at London’s National Theatre, with a lot of British actors doing wise-guy accents that are not all convincing (Beale in particular is not playing a gangster, but is playing a gangster from Some Like It Hot, and performing it for the third balcony).