This article contains major spoilers for the No Sudden Move ending. You can check out our spoiler-free review by clicking these words.
Steven Soderbergh is at it again, and in No Sudden Move, his second original feature for HBO Max in under a year, he returns to his all-time favourite genre – the ensemble heist thriller. But this time the heist is small-scale. A team of criminals are to retrieve a MacGuffin document from the safe of a womanizing, but milquetoast middle-manager played by David Harbour, but when it all predictably goes wrong, the criminals are forced to reluctantly team up and go on the run while they figure out exactly who they are working for, who’s trying to kill them, and why.
Curt (Don Cheadle), Ronald (Benicio del Toro), and Charley (Kieran Culkin) are initially hired by Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) to force Harbour’s GM employee, Matt, to retrieve a document from the office safe of his boss. Despite the setup more closely resembling Reservoir Dogs, these documents work like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. For most of the movie, we have no idea what’s in them, just that everyone wants them, and their contents are in some way tied to the motor industry, this being mid-50s Detroit. It’s only really right at the end that we learn they’re blueprints for a catalytic converter, a gizmo that would create less pollution from automobile exhausts but that the major American manufacturers – Chrysler, GM, Ford – would rather keep a secret, for typically greedy reasons. This is real history, but Soderbergh and screenwriter Ed Solomon envision a more readily filmable version of corporate America that is willing to cosy up to mobsters and corrupt cops so tightly that it’s sometimes impossible to distinguish between them.
The initial plan is supposed to work thusly: Charley takes Matt to the office – and he has no room to argue, since he’s having an affair with his secretary – while the other two guard his wife (Amy Seimetz) and kids (Noah Jupe; Lucy Holt). But the document has already been moved, things go a bit topsy-turvy, Charley winds up dead, and Ronald and Curt both find themselves on the run, forced into something of a reluctant team-up. They’re never quite allies, though, and their fates are pretty distinct and unexpected.
No Sudden Move also fits neatly into the “surprise Matt Damon cameo” canon, since he turns up in the third act as some kind of big-money fixer for the automotive industry who buys the documents for a pretty penny and threatens to walk off with the movie as well. And despite ponying up for the goods he ends up getting all the money and then some back anyway thanks to Jon Hamm’s Detective Joe Finney, also on the take. Those with the most power get to keep it by wielding all their money and resources. Even the mob bosses have no control over the desires of fat-cat corporate bigwigs.
Anyway, Ronald dies. After escaping with the scratch and his fling, Vanessa (Julia Fox), the wife of mob boss Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta), he’s betrayed one more time by his mistress, who shoots him in the head and makes off with the spoils (though she doesn’t get to keep them.) Curt, though, comes out okay. He cuts a deal with Aldrick Watkins (Bill Duke) and his gang, which saves him from Finney and earns him $5000 – just what he feels he’s owed. Judging by the fates of virtually everyone else involved, he should consider himself lucky.