For all his many and varied cinematic experiments, Steven Soderbergh always returns to making lighthearted crime capers.
Based on a original script by Ed Solomon, No Sudden Move is reminiscent of the works of Elmore Leonard; insofar as it portrays overconfident criminals out of their depths.1
Detroit, 1954. Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) needs to get out of town, but is short on cash. He’s approached by a mysterious middle-man (Brendan Fraser) who offers him a job. All he has to do is babysit the family of some accountant while he collects some documents from his boss’ safe.
With Curt are the apparently laidback, deadpan Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro), who’s never without his hip flask, and the edgy Charley (Rory Culkin), an unpredictable element. The job predictably go wrong, if not predictably wrong; setting off a slew of crosses and double-crosses as character’s scrabble for advantage.
It that all sounds pretty simple, if a bit vague, then No Sudden Move makes a virtue of it – it’s a film of simple pleasures.
The ensemble cast all inhabit their lightly-sketched roles to a tee. As account Matt, David Harbour, clean-shaven for the first time in recent years, finds the black humor in his character’s pathetic-ness; apologizing even as he’s in the process of hitting someone. Ray Liotta, now an elder statesman of the genre,2 brings an edge of real menace to what is essentially a cameo.
Liotta’s isn’t the most starry bit part in a film – that falls to another Soderbergh collaborator whose identity I won’t spoil.
Amy Seimetz, who recently directed She Dies Tomorrow, and Julie Fox, who gave a breakout performance alongside Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems, play housewife and lover respectively, but both bring grit and determination to their more domestic roles.
The film’s thematic scope widens dramatically in its final act to something more akin to Chinatown, or at least Motherless Brooklyn, but it feels more like added detail than trying to make a serious point.3 No Sudden Move‘s lack of seriousness, it’s lack of pretensions, are its greatest strength, and perhaps Soderbergh’s too.
He’s a veteran filmmaker who just wants to make movies.4 As director, he allows for flashes of inspiration – like a character climbing a staircase horizontally across the screen. As cinematographer, he plays strikingly with orange and blue in early scenes, as characters transition from external to internal.
David Holmes’ score jazzy, percussive score is both stylish and foreboding. Solomon’s script, meanwhile, is full of nicely-observed moments: all the members of the crew have a different going rate; none of them want to sit in the front passenger seat.
No Sudden Move is an unassuming throwback with panache to spare. The moves it makes might not be groundbreaking, but they’re definitely the right ones.
- George Clooney, who starred in Soderbergh’s actual Leonard adaptation, Out of Sight, was due to play a role, but dropped out due to concerns around Covid.
- He seems to be playing a similar role in the upcoming Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark.
- Though there is something to be said about it’s broader notion that money and power accrue to themselves.
- No wonder he’s found a home on the streaming services – his last four movies have all debuted on either Netflix or HBO Max.