'No Sudden Move' Is Exciting Enough to Forgive Its Flaws Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, David Harbour, Benicio Del Toro, Kieran Culkin, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta
Published Jul 05, 2021Has there been busier director than Steven Soderbergh over the last 20 years? In that time, he has directed and completed a feature film almost yearly, a feat that seems almost impossible, considering the lengthy production cycle most films have. From that crop of films, Soderbergh has established a trademark that mirrors his work ethic, in that many of them move at breakneck speeds, like the Ocean's trilogy or even the more recent Unsane. In his latest, No Sudden Move, that familiar pacing is back, and with it, some pros and cons.
No Sudden Move, set in 1950s Detroit, plays out as a crime thriller with some noir sprinkled in. The film follows Curt (Don Cheadle), who is newly out of jail and looking to skip town due to his fractured relationship with his former mob boss. To finance his move, Curt agrees to take a job offered to him by Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser), who's been sent on behalf of, well, it's not entirely clear. The job sounds simple enough; monitor a man's (David Harbour) family while another member of the crew accompanies the man to his place of work to secure a document sitting in a vault in his boss' office. To round out the job, Jones has also enlisted Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin). Needless to say, the "simple" job does not go as planned, and the audience is taken on a ride of twists and turns to untangle the web of lies and deceit that led the characters to that situation in the first place.
Soderbergh's film cruises along, rarely giving viewers a moment to catch their breath. With so many players involved in this script by Ed Solomon (Now You See Me, Bill and Ted, Men in Black), Soderbergh breezes from scene to scene as characters are crossed, double-crossed, and criss-crossed; seemingly all parties involved are hiding something, whether it be a motive, an affair or further plots.
Soloman helps dictate the rhythm with the way his characters, in addition to the story, are in constant motion. There are moments of stillness, but Soderbergh likes to use the camera to follow Soloman's characters through narrow corridors and hotel lobbies as they, and the audience, approach the next situation with uncertainty. The twists and turns are enough for the film to be engaging, and entertaining as pieces of the puzzle are put into place over the film's roughly two-hour run time.
Because there is so much story to navigate, however, there isn't an opportunity to dive deeper into the characters, which is unfortunate when considering the cast Soderbergh has assembled. In addition to the previously mentioned actors, there are also contributions from Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, and even an old friend of Soderbergh stops by for a quick hello. Despite all the talent, the actors are bound to the story, giving them little time to flex their thespian muscles.
Furthermore, there are moments where the film appears to be interested in ideas grander than the story, but those themes get lost in the chaos of it all. Setting the film in 1950s Detroit provides a complex environment to explore from a socioeconomic standpoint, but the references to systemically racist housing legislation and environmentally harmful and dishonest auto industry titans feel like just that — references. These fleeting moments are more like convenient plot points than an authentic attempt to critique the debilitating shortcomings of government and big business that Detroit is still trying to recover from. But in two hours or less, there are only so many bases you can cover.
Despite its imperfections, No Sudden Move is an entertaining thriller that remains engaging throughout; each twist and turn stokes the fires of intrigue, which is all anyone can really ask for from a thriller. There's great camerawork and a ferocious pace that has become synonymous with Soderbergh's style. Sure, there are a few blemishes, but imperfection should be tolerated from a director pumping out this much content. (HBO Max)