Steven Soderbergh’s latest, the straight to HBO Max thriller “No Sudden Move”, sees the filmmaker once again doing his thing and carving his own eclectic path. This stylish crime noir sports a star-studded cast who all effortlessly fit and flow with Soderbergh’s cool and intoxicating rhythm. Honestly it’s hard to watch and not notice his fingerprints all over this thing. Of course it could be because Soderbergh not only directs but also shoots and edits the film himself. The result is something fun and unmistakably his. And to think just a few years ago he was announcing his retirement.
While watching “No Sudden Move” I instantly began thinking of the terrific and underrated “Devil in a Blue Dress”, one of my favorite Denzel Washington films. This movie puts off a lot of those same vibes with Soderbergh once again embracing his long-held love for shady characters in tough spots. Set amid the racial boil of 1954 Detroit, “No Sudden Move” captures both the idyllic facade and corrupt reality of that period. Soderbergh and screenwriter Ed Solomon immerse us in a time where black neighborhoods were being squeezed out in the name of “urban renewal” and ruthless auto companies would use any means necessary to get ahead of their competition.
It’s this simmering and shifting setting that Soderbergh and Solomon sit us down in. They fill it with low-level hoods, shifty middlemen, menacing gang leaders, and corporate shysters, all basking in the technicolor(ish) glow of amorality and self-interest. At the center is Curt Goynes (played with understated precision by a terrific Don Cheadle), an ex-con who has managed to tick off every crime boss he has worked for. Fresh out of prison and in need of money, he takes a job from a shifty fedora-wearing Brendan Fraser who works on behalf of a mysterious unknown party. It’s should be easy and good-paying work – $5000 with $3K up front for only three hours of work. No killing, no beat-downs, just “babysitting”. What could go wrong?
Curt is teamed with the antsy and ever-suspicious Ronald Russo (Benicio del Toro) and the feisty take-charge Charley (Kieran Culkin). The job calls for them to break into the home of an accountant named Matt Wertz (played by a delightfully skittish David Harbour). Curt and Ron are tasked with staying at the home and keeping an eye on Matt’s family while Charley takes Matt to his firm to retrieve some secret documents from his boss’ safe. But as you might suspect, nothing in this story goes smoothly. The documents are missing. Someone is shot and killed. And soon miscreants galore are crawling out of the city’s underbelly with vested interests in this seemingly simple score.
Curt and Ron form a brittle alliance once they realize they’ve been set up, but the allure of more money keeps them from skipping town. If these documents have this many people’s interest surely they’re worth a lot of money. And if the unlikely duo can get their hands on the documents they can sell them to this highest bidder. Considering the heat from the underworld and the corporate world, it’s probably not the smartest play. So it’s no surprise when they find themselves at odds with some of the bigger fish in the pond, namely gangsters Frank Capelli (the stern and menacing Ray Liotta) and Aldrick Watkins (the quietly charismatic Bill Duke).
Solomon’s script fully embraces the concept of dishonor among thieves. His story overflows with back-stabs, double-crosses, and an array of criminal hoodwinks. Soderbergh has a blast with it, giving the characters room to walk their own paths and dig their own holes. Visually he shoots from a wonderful assortment of perspectives and mostly through wide-angle lenses. When combined with the gorgeous lighting, the film looks both stylishly modern and like something plucked from a bygone era of filmmaking. Mix in the snazzy score from David Holmes and it’s hard not to feel like you’ve stepped into a time machine.
Will the performances are great throughout (especially from Cheadle who blew me away), a few characters are wafer-thin and scream for more attention. Jon Hamm plays a police detective who pops up here and there but with little impact (although he does appear in the two funniest scenes). Also Julia Fox (“Uncut Gems”) ends up with a pretty significant role to play but is barely visible through most of the movie. Still, it’s great to see so many quality talents filling out Soderbergh’s world and operating on his unique wavelength. It’s part of what makes all of his films (even his misfires) so fascinating to watch. “No Sudden Move” is now streaming on HBO Max.