Meaning of Tattoos in The Outfit, Explained

Co-written and directed by Graham Moore, ‘The Outfit’ follows a group of characters, all of whom are much more than meets the eye. The events in the film take place in a single location, a tailor shop known for making custom suits. The owner of the shop is Leonard Burling, a soft-spoken man who prefers to lead a quiet life as much as possible. It’s not easy, considering that he lives in a neighborhood ruled by the Irish mob and that his shop is frequented by the members of the mob, particularly the mob boss’s son and the right-hand man. They see Leonard as a harmless old man, but in the end, a completely different side of him comes to life, and his tattooed arms tell a compelling story.

Leonard’s Tattoos Are the Reminders of His Criminal Past

Leonard is a quiet man who doesn’t like to make much fuss. He doesn’t like to know anything about anyone and, in return, doesn’t like to divulge anything more than necessary about his own past either. All that most people know about him is that he came from England following the war to establish his business in Chicago. The only thing he brought from home was the fabric shears he holds dear. Slowly, however, more details about him come to light.

Leonard reveals that the shears were given to him by his wife, who died in a fire, along with their daughter. Leonard had a tailor shop in London, too, and he lived with his family in the apartment above the shop. One night, there was a fire in the shop, and considering the amount of fabrics there, the fire spread rapidly and engulfed the entire building, including the apartment, in which Leonard’s family perished, while he could do nothing but watch. It’s a moving story and explains why Leonard left England, but even this is not the whole picture.

The seemingly mild-mannered tailor turns out to be the one who orchestrates the whole series of events and the bloodbath that takes place during the film. He’d found out that his assistant, Mable, was the rat who had planted a bug for the FBI while also passing info to the Boyles’ rival gang, LaFontaine. Leonard knew that being involved in such things never turned out well for anyone, and he didn’t want to see Mable get hurt. So, he manipulated the Boyles into thinking that the Outfit was sending them the message and gave them a fake tape while also making them question the loyalties of the people amongst them.

Because no one suspects Leonard, he easily manipulates Richie and Francis against each other, and Francis ends up killing Richie. He also manipulates Francis into letting Roy Boyle walk into an ambush, where he is killed by the LaFontaines. In the end, he gives up Francis to LaFontaines and gives the real tape to Mable to send it to the FBI as evidence to build the case against the remaining members of the Boyle gang and the LaFontaines.

While we know Leonard is a wise old man, the question remains: how could he have the knowledge to manipulate the events so easily? The answer is simple: it’s because he has been one of those people. He tells Francis (before killing him) that he once worked for a gang in London and did all the things that Francis did for the Boyle gang. Eventually, however, the bloodbath and the violence got to him, and he decided to walk away. He tried to start over with his family and his new business, but he was soon reminded that the past never really leaves a person. No matter where he went, it would follow him, and sure enough, he found himself in the middle of the Boyle gang’s operation.

The tattoos on Leonard are a mark of his past. They are not just reminders of who he used to be, but their permanence denotes that he will never be free of that part of his life. They are also the irrefutable evidence to his story, proving that he did, in fact, live that life and wasn’t simply making up a story, in case someone finds it impossible to believe (much like Richie, who laughed when Leonard told him he was the rat.) Leonard revealing his tattoos to Francis is also his way of removing all pretenses. It’s also to be noted that he only shows his tattoos to Francis, never rolling up his sleeves in front of anyone else, because he sees himself in Francis, which is why he knows he cannot let Francis live. There would be no point to that because, just like Leonard, Francis cannot run from his past, and he can never really change.

Read More: The Outfit: Is Leonard Burling Inspired by a Real Tailor?