NO SUDDEN MOVE
2021, R, 115 mins.
Don Cheadle as Curt Goynes / Benicio Del Toro as Ronald Russo / David Harbour as Matt Wertz / Ray Liotta as Frank Capelli / Jon Hamm as Joe Finney / Brendan Fraser as Doug Jones / Kieran Culkin as Charley / Amy Seimetz as Mary Wertz / Julia Fox as Vanessa CapelliDirected by Steven Soderbergh / Written by Ed Solomon
I usually lament when a proven veteran director goes back to the genre well, so to speak, but when your name is Steven Soderbergh and (a) you have nothing to prove to cement your stature in the industry and (b) you're so damn confident in the genre in question then it's really hard to argue with the choice.
remember when the Academy Award winner announced his retirement
(yeah...right) way back in 2013 after releasing SIDE
EFFECTS, which in actuality was more of a self-imposed break.
He continued to break the boundaries of the art form, whether it be
working with streaming partners (HIGH
FLYING BIRD) or even employing avant garde shooting methods (like
using iPhones for UNSANE).
Soderbergh once again teams with a streaming giant in HBO MAX for
his period crime caper thriller NO SUDDEN MOVE, which may seem like easy
going comfort food territory for the acclaimed filmmaker, but he
nevertheless constructs a fascinating tale of betrayals and double crosses
filled with a colorful menagerie of doomed characters, many of which seem
in well over their heads.
well oiled script by Ed Solomon (yes, of BILL AND TED trilogy fame) opens
in 1950's Detroit and by introducing us to one of the many aforementioned
doomed characters in Curt Goyners (Don Cheadle), who just got released
from the slammer and needs to secure some quick cash to make it out of the
city and into a fresh start. He
seems willing to do anything for a buck to secure his freedom, even
joining the likes of Ronald (Benicio del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin)
on the advice of his new boss/recruiter in Jones (Brendan Fraser) for what
seems, initially at least, like an easy assignment.
They break their way into the home of Matt (David Harbour...man...this
cast!), and use the threat of violence against him and his wife (Amy
Seimetz) and his kids (the eldest played by A
QUIET PLACE's Noah Jupe): Unless he breaks into the safe of his
boss to secure a much sought after item, then they're all goners.
The trio of crooks also have leverage against the poor and hapless
Matt because they know that he's secretly sleeping with his secretary
behind his wife's back, meaning that Matt is really between a rock and a
of tough predicaments, Curt has crossed the wrong paths of some serious
heavy hitting crime lords in the city, one of which is Watkins (Bill
Duke...like...man...this cast!), while Ronald has been having an
affair with Vanessa (Julia Fox), who happens to be the wife of powerful
mob boss Frank Capelli (played by former GOODFELLA himself, Ray Liotta).
To say that Curt and Ronald are stressed about the thought of
heading towards violent fates with two of the most prominent and dangerous
criminals in the city is an understatement, which adds substantial
pressure being placed on both of them to succeed in their current caper
and get the hell out of town in one piece.
Rather unavoidably, things go south for everyone of these players
pretty fast, with bodies piling up and unpredictable roadblocks impeding
their success at every turn. The longer this caper continues the
more convoluted it becomes for all. In
pure Soderbergh-ian fashion, NO SUDDEN MOVE features desperate lowlifes
doing desperate things to escape certain death, and as the film unfolds it
becomes both darkly amusing and unnerving to watch in equal dosages.
can't say or emphasize it enough, but Soderbergh may have amassed his best
performance ensemble in many a moon here, some of which have worked with
him multiple times before, whereas some are new to the squad.
One of the simple pleasures of watching NO SUDDEN MOVES is in the
character introduction sections and seeing one great headliner after
another make their presence felt. Aside
from the huge treat of seeing the superb Bill Duke appear here playing a
truly frightening and imposing criminal that's scary just in his stillness
alone, we then get to witness Ray Liotta joyously chew scenery as a mafia
leader. I also admired the
against type casting of Brendan Fraser, and I'm sure audience members have
fond memories of him playing adventure heroes in pulpy delights like THE
MUMMY films, but here he inhabits a whole different type of duplicitous
minded lowlife. Also, it's
been so long since he appeared in a film in a meaningful role, so his
inclusion here was most welcoming.
and Solomon also give NO SUDDEN MOVE a gangbusters solid opening, which
mostly transpires in the tight confines of Matt's family home and kitchen,
and the uneasy atmosphere of dread and uncertainty of what's to come for
these victims lures us in (it doesn't help matters either that every gang
has a trigger happy and hot headed lunatic, in this case Culkin's Charley,
who plays the role with a throw caution to the wind hostility).
As the screenplay ventures outside of Matt's home and accompanies
him to his place of work the movie becomes even denser and more layered
with stressful complications, which further leads to more twisting and
turning of the narrative trajectory.
Patience is a large virtue in Soderbergh's overall approach, and NO
SUDDEN MOVE is a crime thriller that's not decidedly high on action or
violence (although it contains both), but there's a leisurely pace to the
events unfolding that respects audience attention spans.
He wants to immerse us in the proceedings with slow simmering
suspense versus titillating us with fisticuffs and gun battles.
That technique is also crucial in allowing viewers to get into the
headspaces of all of these characters and understand what makes them tick
and how their ulterior motives may get the better of them in the end.
screenplay contributions here are as significant as Soderbergh's assured
hand and eye behind the camera. On
paper, there are just so damn many characters here all vying for
attention, but Solomon manages to have them all coalesce smoothing
together and without any of them hijacking the whole film from one
another. Then there's the
intrinsically fascinating hook/MacGuffin of the picture (which I won't
spoil here, but let's just say it involves then emerging and potentially
ground breaking technology in the auto industry), which adds a whole added
layer of historical interest to the story.
Ultimately, where Solomon's script really shines is in how it
adheres to one central conceit: Crooks making many cardinal blunders while
trying to one up each other...and while all of them have their eyes on the
same prize. One defining trait to the schemers on display here is that
many of them are just plain careless...and sometimes in idiotic ways.
NO SUDDEN MOVE is not a chronicle of criminal masterminds, but
rather distressed hoodlums that can't see more than a move or two ahead,
which often leads to preventable mistakes happening.
But, yeah, when it comes right down to it NO SUDDEN MOVE is certainly a bit on the overly familiar side as far as Soderbergh's filmography goes. We get criminal ex-cons needing one last score to secure freedom on the outside...we get ominous power brokers controlling everything and everyone...we get agents of the law that may or may not be lawful...and, yes, we get a caper that goes horribly wrong (these conventions are as old as the genre). These are minor quibbles, because what alienated me the most while watching NO SUDDEN MOVE was the usually potent cinematic stylist in Soderbergh employing some aesthetic tricks and choices here that become insanely obtrusive and frankly distracting as the film progresses. Soderbergh has always been respected as a maverick that tries to buck stylistic status quos, but here he uses distorted, fisheye lens so much throughout that the technique draws too much unwarranted attention for how pretentious it is (we get it, skewed camera positions and disjointed focal points mirrors the crookedness of these characters). Considering that NO SUDDEN MOVE is trying to be an old fashioned and classical genre exercise, why Soderbergh didn't just utilize a more economical and classic visual style here is beyond me. The film is simply hard to watch in parts, which is a shame.
Still, this is nevertheless a fully engaging period caper with a bravura cast, slick scripting, and is chalk full of cynical lowlifes up to no good. There's no radical reinvention of the genre wheel here by Soderbergh, but the end results are satisfying enough that you'll come out commending the effort. And very few active filmmakers working today can spin well worn cinematic wheels as good as Soderbergh.