The Outfit

The Outfit

D: John Flynn (1974); with Robert Duvall, Robert Ryan, Karen Black, Joe Don Baker, Timothy Carey, Richard Jaeckel, Sheree North, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr., Bill McKinney, Jane Greer, Henry Jones. Small-time hood Earl Macklin gets out of prison and learns that his brother was killed by mob hitmen. He discovers his girlfriend Bett (Black) was coerced into setting up his brother while Macklin was away. To seek revenge on the Outfit, he teams up with Cody (Baker), and together, with Bett, they stay on the move from one seedy motel room to the next, one step ahead of the Outfit guys bent on stopping them. First they seek out Menner (Carey, in a fairly maniacal performance), the man responsible for the brother's setup. Eventually the duo take the fight all the way to mob boss Mailer (Ryan). The storyline may be reminiscent of Forties film noir, but The Outfit updates the somewhat shopworn plot with generous helpings of casual violence that bring it close to Tarantino territory. Taken from a novel by Donald Westlake (writing as Richard Stark), this is possibly one of the great unsung crime films of the Seventies. Duvall plays Macklin with a stony reserve and ruthless edge that make him a fairly extreme sort of antihero. He treats his girlfriend like dirt, pistol-whips anyone standing in his way, and seems to only bond with his buddy Cody. He foils a hitman sent to kill him, then dismisses him with the nonchalant line, "Go die someplace else." The Outfit is the only script written by director Flynn (Rolling Thunder), who gives the movie an unsentimental detachment and eloquent plainness that speak volumes. For instance, the scene in which Macklin and Cody make their way to a white-trash used car business to buy a Dodge sedan. In Flynn's hands, the tumble-down house and packed-dirt yard have the dignity of a Wyeth painting, rather than looking like the rural mess they really are. The supporting cast is a Who's Who of character actors: Windsor, McKinney, Cook, Greer, Jaeckel, Jones. Ryan is great as the aging mob boss whose composure slowly crumbles as the seemingly unstoppable hoods' war gets closer to his own doorstep. Duvall, however, is the centerpiece. His icy demeanor makes him the perfect killing machine as he methodically takes out all the forces arrayed against him. The exposition drags a little at times, but the action scenes have an unbridled energy and fairly shocking level of brutality that more than make up for the slow segments. It's hardly noir stylistically, but all the elements are there -- a laconic, loner antihero up against a vicious crime syndicate, a sleazy underworld milieu, and even a supporting cast of noir icons to round things out.

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