Earl Macklin (Robert Duvall) has been doing time in prison for a minor crime, but today has been released to start his life again. However, after his girlfriend Bett Harrow (Karen Black) picks him up from the gates and takes him back to a motel room so he can gather his thoughts, she cannot hold in some very bad news any longer: Macklin's brother has been murdered recently. It seems he was out in his back yard in the country when a couple of hitmen posing as a priest and a taxi driver showed up and shot him dead in front of his dog, and the shocked Macklin knows the reason why when he does a little research: he and his sibling raided the wrong bank before he went inside...
Yes, they robbed a bank belonging to a crime syndicate who may or may not be the Mafia, or at least here were generic mobsters, and now it's payback time. But for whom? The gangsters think they will be getting what's due to them with a large serving of vengeance when they kill the Macklin brothers, but they reckon without Earl's resourcefulness and determination to keep digging away at the foundations of their organisation until he is satisfied both financially and by way of offing the men he wishes to get his own back on. Like the better known yet no less cult Point Blank before it, The Outfit was drawn from the pages of Donald E. Westlake's Parker novels, which he penned under the pseudonym Richard Stark.
They quickly picked up a strong following in the sixties onwards for their uncompromising action and attitudes to building up a thriller plot that hammered away until Parker had achieved what he had set out to do, leaving a litter of bodies in his wake. The movies, which were beginning to throw off the shackles of censorship to get to grips with more explicit violent and sexual content, snapped up the rights to the character, yet would always change his name seemingly to prevent a series being created, presumably so they could keep changing the actor, and not in a James Bond fashion either. Here it was Duvall's chance to step into the shoes, not the same kind of performer as Lee Marvin by any means.
He could play the tough guy, however, and though that's not what he stuck to, as a leading character actor he had the range to succeed as Macklin who may be a nasty piece of work (in an early scene he literally parts a bad guy's hair with a bullet fired from his gun at close range), but seeing as how his enemies are even nastier, he and his small gang are the good guys by default. That gang consisted of Bett (Black exhibiting her tendency to whininess) and the pal he picks up along the way, Jack Cody played by Joe Don Baker, one of the best in the business in the nineteen-seventies at scene stealing tough guy supporting roles. Here he was essentially on the side of good, though like Macklin he cares not a jot for stepping on any toes, or indeed shooting any toes off as one baddie is threatened with.
The Outfit was more or less one damn thing after another, a curious mix of the down and dirty and the ruthlessly efficient. Adapter and director John Flynn may never have become a household name, but as far as cult thriller fans are concerned he was an unsung hero, crafting no-nonsense suspense and action that did not spawn blockbuster profits, but would always be welcomed by movie buffs seeking a solid slice of man's man entertainment of an evening. There were other strings to his bow, but he always seemed more comfortable regarding America through the prism of violence and its implications, and here you had the measure of his oeuvre fairly comprehensively, no messing about, it simply got on with the story and threw in a little wry comment and brusque observations on the atmosphere of tough guys: here Macklin seems more enamoured of Cody and his gun than he is of Bett, who proves unreliable. This was intended as a tribute to the film noirs of Flynn's youth, hence a cast dotted with faces from those movies, but it spoke more to the seventies, and as such wasn't bad at all. Music by Jerry Fielding.