The Outfit

the outfitrating 2.5It probably changes my opinions about this film substantially that I've read the novel "The Outfit", as well as close to a dozen of (Donald E. Westlake as) Richard Stark's other Parker novels. Most people may be familiar with Parker through a few of the other adaptations of Richard Stark's novels. "The Hunter" was adapted into 1967's Point Blank (with Lee Marvin) and 1999's Payback (with Mel Gibson). The Gibson film is the most accurate story-wise, at least in Brian Helgeland's director's cut of the film that was eventually released. Though it's a very modern adaptation, the 2013 Parker at least gets credit for being the only Parker film to not change Parker's name. Also, it does a good job of capturing the feel of the Parker novels, often revolving around Parker committing a well-planned crime of some kind, getting double-crossed, and then seeking revenge to retrieve what he's owed.

The Outfit takes an end-run around Parker entirely to reuse many of the scenes and setpieces from the novel without actually using the character at all. Those of you who've seen any of the other films may remember the lead as a tough, stoic professional, whose only interest is in the job, followed by placid semi-retirement until the money runs out. He does not suffer people who don't pull their weight, he avoids violence when it's unnecessary but will apply it absolutely when called for, and doesn't let women or personal relationships distract him from his work. He's an anti-James Bond.

The lead in The Outfit is Robert Duvall as Earl Macklin. Eschewing Parker's personal financial war on The Outfit (that those of you who have seen Payback should remember) until he receives what he's owed (the money Mal Resnick stole from their score to buy his way into the organization), Macklin leaves prison only to find his brother has been murdered by hitmen. He's picked up from prison by his young girlfriend, Bett Harrow, who takes him to a motel on his way to his brother's house. She breaks down and admits there that she was tortured by an Outfit mobster and gave up Macklin and his brother. A hitman is on his way to the motel to end his life as well. He gets the drop on the hired gun and finds out that the bank he and his crew robbed several years before was a front for the Outfit. Therefore, they all have to be made an example of. Macklin decides to exact his revenge by robbing Outfit targets until they pay him a quarter million dollars for his trouble.

While the monetary exchange as a matter of closure rings true to Parker as a character, not much else does. Macklin was a family man with a wife and kids who don't speak to him anymore. Parker wouldn't be hanging around a young, unstable floozy like Bett. Duvall's Macklin isn't stern or self-assured enough to be Parker. Parker is cold confidence. Macklin is often easy-going and convivial. Statham and Gibson at least managed to get to the heart of the character, a man that is all serious business. The notion of shoving a side-story with the girlfriend was exceptionally irritating to me, as well as just generally detracting from the flow of the movie.

It should be noted that I do enjoy a good 70s crime drama: I'm fond of Matthau in Charley Varrick or The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three or The Laughing Policeman or Hopscotch; I've been through any number of films like The Long GoodbyeChinatownThe French Connection, and any number of other crime movies of the period; I've even got Night Moves and The Friends Of Eddie Coyle also lined up to watch soon. So, I've experienced quite a few of varying levels of quality and interest. While The Outfit is dead-standard for the writing and plot, despite Stark's groundwork, the movie itself should be noted for its bland ugliness. It's just a step above an episode of "Columbo". And even that may be giving it too much credit, as I'm sure there are plenty of episodes of "Columbo" with much more inventive uses of the camera, managing to make things look less shitty and bland. It's surprisingly artless for a period that making an art out of this kind of film. The writer/director would go on to make Rolling ThunderOut For Justice, and Brainscan, so I'm guessing he wasn't hiding an abundance of unused talent somewhere.

The acting, for what it's worth, is mostly fine. Joe Don Baker shows off why he used to actually get cast in films as Macklin's sidekick (something Parker definitely wouldn't have had). The rest of the cast is mostly filled with lesser-name character actors as the mafiosos and screen beauties of the '40s and '50s as the female characters. The one stand-out is Karen Black, a name that used to carry some weight but has mostly been forgotten. From the example set here, it's for good fucking reason. Her character was irksome, to say the least, and her portrayal did nothing to lessen that. I can't imagine a single upside to her performance. One of the only good moments featuring her - which was much more Parker than Macklin - was when, after wanting to go home to her family and breaking down into hysterics, throws Macklin's gun (which he is cleaning) into a motel room wall, he calms her down by slapping the shit out of her, repeatedly. When she eventually dies, Macklin doesn't really show any emotion and the story moves on, so I'm not sure why she even existed through most of the script. She could have died back at the motel when the assassin came for Macklin. She served no purpose except to get in the way of plot.

Ultimately, it was a movie. It filled time, but didn't do anything exceptional. It also did nothing to translate Richard Stark's work to a wider audience. Maybe someone will someday give Parker the "Justified" treatment that Elmore Leonard's Raylan Givens received. Because Earl Macklin is no Parker. And this is no The Outfit.