It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
“The Outfit” is a classy action picture, very well directed and acted, about a gangster’s revenge on the mob for the death of his brother. An outline of the plot would make it sound pretty routine, but what makes the picture superior is its richness of detail. We don’t care much about what happens; the same things are always happening in action movies, and when you’ve seen one car burst into flames you’ve seen them all. But the people in this movie are uncommonly interesting.
The lead is a guy named Macklin, played by Robert Duvall. He and his brother made the mistake some years ago of sticking up a bank that was owned by the outfit. In revenge, his brother is wiped out by a couple of stone-faced gunsels. (And this is, by the way, the first movie in a long time to resurrect “gunsel,” that great piece of 1930s slang. Maybe it was suggested by Elisha Cook, who has a bit part here and was the archetypal gunsel in “The Maltese Falcon.”)
Anyway, Duvall gets out of prison and hitches up with an old partner in crime, Joe Don Baker. They also take along Duvall’s girl (Karen Black), but mostly she just gets to ride in the back seat. Like so many movies of the last five or six years, this one is essentially about a relationship between two males. Duvall and Baker make it work better than usual by suggesting real, fundamental friendship and mutual respect. We don’t get the narcissistic wisecracks of Newman and Redford, and we don’t get the exercises in Actors Studio acting and reacting that Gene Hackman and Al Pacino seemed locked into in “Scarecrow.”
No, these are just a couple of old pals who are quick and mean and very professional. And Duvall is reasonable, too; he doesn’t want total vengeance, he only wants a quarter of a million dollars. The outfit takes in more than that before noon, on a good day - or so observes Robert Ryan, who plays the mob chief. But Ryan double-crosses Duvall, and then it turns out that for $250,000, he would have been getting off cheap.
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