Cinema: A sharp 1950s-set thriller and Dumbledore is back
THE OUTFIT (15)
The first cut is the deepest in Graham Moore’s handsomely tailored thriller but the other 227 steps, which transform 38 pieces of cotton, silk, mohair and wool into a two-piece suit, are just as meticulous and elegant.
Set almost entirely in four interconnected rooms of a bespoke men’s atelier in 1950s Chicago, this bruising battle of wills feels like it must have begun life as a suspenseful stage play.
In fact, The Outfit is an original work of bullet-riddled fiction fashioned by co-writers Johnathan McClain and Moore, the latter making an impressive directorial debut several years after he collected an Academy Award for his screenplay to The Imitation Game.
Alan Turing would have cracked the coded conversations between characters before a final act of steadily spiralling tension fuelled by the incendiary lead performance of chameleonic fellow Oscar winner Mark Rylance.
“You cannot make something good until you understand who you’re making it for,” quietly explains his Savile Row-trained craftsman in an opening voiceover that revels in the painstaking precision of handmade couture. Heeding those words, the script doesn’t take us for fools, holding our attention in a chokehold with emotionally charged interrogations that venerate the art of coolly saying one thing when you mean something else.
Mild-mannered widower Leonard Burling (Rylance) is a master craftsman with a pair of shears, who creates impeccable garments for the tough-talking men of 1956 Chicago.
He runs a shop, L Burling Bespoke, with chatterbox receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch), who dreams of travelling the world.
In the back room of Leonard’s inauspicious premises is a lockbox used by associates of the mob headed by Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale). Leonard turns a blind eye to visits from Roy’s son Richie (Dylan O’Brien) and right-hand man Francis (Johnny Flynn) to collect brown paper envelopes stuffed with cash.
“If we only let angels be customers, soon we’d have no customers at all,” he quietly reminds Mable. When a mysterious organisation called The Outfit tips off Boyle about a mole in his organisation, Leonard and Mable are unwittingly drawn into the hunt for a traitor.
Sharp words are traded as Boyle demands a swift resolution before his fierce rival Violet LaFontaine (Nikki Amuka-Bird) can take advantage of gangland loyalties strained by suspicion.
The Outfit is constructed almost as artfully as one of Leonard’s suits, using bone-crunching violence as last resort when menacing words fail to draw blood. Rylance is masterful as an unassuming pawn in a deadly game of strategy and subterfuge, gelling splendidly with Deutch’s dreamer and Flynn’s hot-headed thug. The shop feels increasingly claustrophobic as Moore tightens the thumb screws and ambushes our expectations.
“Perfection is impossible,” suggests Leonard. He’s right – there are wrinkles in the film’s finishing touches – but, for a first feature, The Outfit certainly makes the cut.
FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE SECRETS OF DUMBLEDORE (12A)
If third time's a charm in the wizarding world created by JK Rowling as well as here in the muggle realm, then some nefarious creature must have cast the Finite Incantatem counter-spell to prevent Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore from completely bewitching me.
Visually stunning from a lustrous opening encounter between Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) that tenderly confirms the characters' romantic past without ambiguity, the third chapter of magical conflict is disappointingly light on narrative substance and lacks the palpable peril of its predecessor, The Crimes Of Grindelwald.
A heart-breaking personal loss at the conclusion of the second film is largely ignored, the dramatic reveal involving deeply disturbed Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) doesn't get the satisfying pay-off we crave, and Mikkelsen dilutes the maniacal menace of the antagonistic dark wizard previously portrayed by Johnny Depp.
David Yates's sweeping fantasy certainly has its undeniable pleasures, including gorgeous production and costume design that ravish the eyes, comic relief courtesy of adorable, digitally rendered critters and Eddie Redmayne's hilariously hypnotic hip swivel during an outlandish subterranean set piece.
The Secrets Of Dumbledore is less than the sum of its polished and entertaining parts and, with an overly generous running time of 142 minutes, it's also the longest instalment of the franchise... and feels like it.
Dumbledore, professor of Defence Against The Dark Arts at Hogwarts, cannot move against Grindelwald because of the blinding blood oath made when they were idealistic teenagers and madly in love.
He implores trusted magizoologist Newt Scamander (Redmayne) to assemble a crack team comprising Newt's brother Theseus (Callum Turner) and trusted assistant Bunty Broadacre (Victoria Yeates), Professor Eulalie "Lally" Hicks (Jessica Williams), Yusuf Kama (William Nadylam) and muggle baker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to undertake a perilous mission designed to confuse Grindelwald and his followers.
"You have to trust me when every instinct tells you not to," Dumbledore softly implores Theseus.
Meanwhile, Credence is fashioned into a weapon of vengeful destruction and Queenie (Alison Sudol) agonises over her decision to abandon sweetheart Jacob to do Grindelwald's bidding.
Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore kindles on-screen heat between Law and Mikkelsen with an opening refrain that succinctly summarises Grindelwald's disgust for non-magical folk.
"Is it really your intent to turn your back on your own kind for these animals?," he seethes at Dumbledore.
This intense boil reduces to a polite simmer over the next two hours as screenwriters Rowling and Steve Kloves casually tie up loose threads and orchestrate a conventional quest that barrels through pre-Second World War Germany and Bhutan with a few flicks of a wand that should have cast a Diffindo spell to precisely trim Yates's picture to two hours.
COMPARTMENT NO 6 (15)
An exhausting long-distance train journey to northern Russia provides the backdrop to burgeoning romance in Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s tender drama, based on Rosa Liksom’s novel of the same title.
Finnish archaeology student Laura (Seidi Haarla) is persuaded by her lecturer and lover to travel to Murmansk to view ancient petroglyphs as part of her education.
She boards a train and is shocked to discover that she will be sharing her carriage with a foul-mouthed, misogynistic skinhead called Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov). He is travelling to Murmansk to work down a mine and readily soaks his macho facade with alcohol. A chance encounter between polar opposites in carriage number six kindles an attraction as Laura and Ljoha get to know each other and let their guards down.
Laura learns that her travelling companion is actually a shy and sensitive boy, who yearns for meaningful human connection just as deeply as her. 6/10