While some people thought Steven Soderbergh was out of the game, his new crime drama “No Sudden Move” says otherwise. Soderbergh returned to HBO Max with a phenomenal old-fashioned heist flick that has one of the sharpest ensembles he’s ever assembled including Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm and Julia Fox. Once again his film is interrogating power structures, which shares a thematic resemblance with his other films such as “High Flying Bird” and “Traffic.”
Writer Ed Solomon and Soderbergh set this story in 1950’s Detroit where the auto-industry was fiercely competitive. The film follows a race between the big 4 companies including GM and Ford in the background, with a daring and adrenaline pumping heist plot in the center. It starts with the recruitment of a trio of tough guys: Curtis Goynes (Don Cheadle), Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin). These guys are under the guidance of the mysterious Jones (Brendan Fraser). At the beginning of the story, Curt is released from prison and needs one good job to get out of town before some vengeful criminal power players come after him, including a peculiar figure named Watkins (Bill Duke). Curtis is partnered with Ronald, who happens to be having an affair with Vanessa (Julia Fox), the wife of mob boss Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta). This means Ronald and Curt are on incredibly thin ice with two of the most powerful mob kings in Detroit. The danger is palpable.
Rounding out the trio is the wildcard, Charley, who leads the criminals into the home of the typical 1950’s middle American father and husband, Matt (David Harbour, possibly his best performance in his career so far), taking his wife (Amy Seimetz) and kids (including Noah Jupe) hostage. They order Matt, a low-level employee, to retrieve an item from the safe in the office of his boss. They know he will do it because they know about his affair with the boss’s secretary. Before long, there’s a body, there’s betrayal, and there’s the potential for more carnage soon to come. As Curt and Ronald are forced to think on the fly, the names of Capelli and Watkins filter through their dialogue, representing the criminal powers that control their lives, always in the background threatening their survival. The script is a classic example of compounding mistakes and hidden motives. Nefarious intent always releases skeletons from closets.
“No Sudden Move” feels like a different movie once the third act begins. It shifts from a fast, on-your-toes heist film to a more agenda based chess game. That agenda, of course, is the focus on how the big 4 car companies were able to withhold information regarding their vehicles’ added excess to pollution in the 1950’s. It shows how people were paid off to keep this secret silent. However, the total shift of mood in the third act should not be mistaken as a complaint, rather it was an unexpected change of pace that made this story anything but boring. At some points it is understandable that audiences may have found it hard to keep up with characters and their revealing secrets, but it still held up to the enjoyment of watching a star-studded cast do outstanding work for an hour and fifty-five minutes.
The film is ultimately focused on Curtis and Ronald, two criminals who have similar motives but different secrets and loyalties. People like them in those times often had to think on the fly, keeping their head above water in that river known as organized crime. Without spoilers, it arrives at a fantastically cynical but sincere place regarding how greed and crime impacts the rich in one way, and how it impacts the people who made them rich in another. As Mr. Lowen says, “I did not create the river, I am merely paddling the raft.” This mysterious character of Mr. Lowen was played by the one and only Matt Damon. Damon was not in the credits of the film so no one expected him to be in this before its release, but his character has a monologue that reminds everyone of his striking power to capture an audience in his short performance.
It is a remarkable movie in terms of craft, of course. Soderbergh gives HBO Max subscribers a unique visual language by using fisheye lenses to reflect the confusing nature of some of the characters. His simple standing shots enhance the dialogue rather than dilute them, and without flashy cinematography, “No Sudden Move” reminds viewers that the script alone can be enough to strike intrigue. The film has great setups, but doesn’t call attention to itself. The camera has a life of its own, which only enhances the viewing experience of a film that already contains sleek storytelling.
Steven Soderbergh rejuvenated our love for movies in a time where numerous films have fallen short in satisfaction—which is oddly exciting considering Soderbergh claimed to have “retired” a few years ago before returning with a more active slate. Soderbergh is already back to work on another film called “KIMI” which is still being kept under wraps.
“No Sudden Move” is now streaming on HBO Max.
By Jimmy Meyer