No Sudden Move review – a slick, smart crime thriller

July 2, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Film Reviews, HBO Max
4

Summary

Steven Soderbergh assembles perhaps his best-ever ensemble for No Sudden Move, an old-fashioned crime thriller with smarts and style to spare.

4

Summary

Steven Soderbergh assembles perhaps his best-ever ensemble for No Sudden Move, an old-fashioned crime thriller with smarts and style to spare.

Steven Soderbergh is the kind of filmmaker who you’ll either find inspiring or annoying. While you’re complaining you don’t have the time to go to the gym, he’s out making feature films on his iPhone. If the films were worse, this kind of determinedly lo-fi and undeniably slightly smug style would be harder to tolerate, but they’re almost always good – and fairly often they’re great. Depending on your facility for double-crosses, his latest, No Sudden Move, a return to HBO Max after last year’s Let Them All Talk, might be another entry in his “great” canon.

This is as stripped-down and to-the-point as crime thrillers get – it might not be Reservoir Dogs, but it’s close in terms of how reliant it is on packing its wonderful ensemble into tight spaces and letting us try and work out who’s playing who. Set against the backdrop of Detroit’s mid-50s auto race, we primarily follow two criminals, Ronald (Benicio Del Toro) and Curt (Don Cheadle), who try to pull off the “one last job” they both need to escape a complicated nest of criminals and auto executives including mob boss Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta), aging rival gangster Watkins (Bill Duke), some morally flexible cops and a surprise guest-star.

That one last job, as expected, starts out looking like a couple of hours of babysitting and ends up being life or death. Working with the hot-headed Charley (Kieran Culkin), Curt and Ronald are just to stand watch over the wife and kids (Amy Seimetz as the wife, Noah Jupe and Lucy Holt as the kids) of Matt (David Harbour), a low-level office worker unremarkable in every way except how an affair with his secretary makes him manipulable. Charley takes him to retrieve something from his boss’s safe, but it all goes wrong, and very quickly everyone seems to be on the run, though they’re not always entirely sure who from.

Soderbergh’s spare style usually means he isn’t liable to over-indulge, so No Sudden Move runs for a shade under two hours and the script from Ed Solomon never flags; you might not always be able to keep the pieces of this movie together in a neat order, but you’ll never stop being interested in how they’re shuffled around. The double-crosses, twists and turns might prove too much for some, especially in a middle portion that introduces so many new and obviously important characters that you start to think there might be no end to them, but that’s the price of admission in an old-fashioned neo-noir crime movie like this. The thematic throughline is much more coherent, at least – it’s about how crime and greed intersect with big business, and how the winners always seem to be those who can reach the deepest into their pockets.

Visually, we must return again to Soderbergh’s unshowy but nevertheless unique sense of craft. Finding a balance between visibly distinct – particularly in the use of a shot-distorting fisheye lens – but not pretentious, he’s able to create an aesthetic language for No Sudden Move that works as an extension of its characters, their headspaces, and the setting, without feeling like he’s stroking himself off about it. It’s the opposite, really, of someone like Zack Snyder, whose distinct visual sensibilities exist for their own sake. Soderbergh is if nothing else a purposeful director, and he makes purposeful movies. The ensemble crime drama is perhaps his favorite mode, and he returns to it here with obvious enthusiasm and maybe his best ensemble yet. Logan Lucky remains my favorite of his post-hiatus oeuvre, but No Sudden Move nonetheless proves that Steven Soderbergh is the veritable master of making Steven Soderbergh movies.

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