The prolific director and his prolific class get down and dirty in the Motor City
No Sudden Move is another sleek and entertaining ensemble crime drama from Steven Soderbergh, much to the surprise of no one who likes that sort of thing. For a long while, the joys of No Sudden Move come from watching the cast bounce off each other. With a cast that features Don Cheadle, Amy Seimetz, Julia Fox, Benicio Del Toro, Brendan Fraser, and Ray Liotta, among many others, there are endless combinations for Soderbergh and writer Ed Solomon to play with. It’s a beguiling film that keeps you laughing and amused while working through a byzantine mystery that seems almost comically convoluted until, suddenly, it snaps into focus and No Sudden Move shifts from a frothy riff to something akin to Detroit’s very own Chinatown.
The movie begins with Don Cheadle’s Curt walking down quiet streets. Cars line the curbs and everything looks peaceful. Then Curt enters a building and a title pops up to let us know we’re in 1954 Detroit. The Motor City looks almost idyllic, far from the image that immediately comes to mind when we think of what Detroit is (or is perceived to be) in 2021. Before long, Curt takes a quick job for a quicker payday. Paired up with Del Toro’s Ronald, the duo find themselves as guppies swimming with sharks in the deep end. As Curt and Ronald work their way from one mysterious figure to the next, the story spreads out until seemingly everyone is either running a scheme or having one run on them.
As Soderbergh has worked through his iPhone and fish-eye lens phase, I can’t say I’ve been too enamored with the visual aesthetic. But No Sudden Move is easily the best-shot Soderbergh movie in a while. The fish-eye wide shots in particular stand out. There’s an accordion effect at play as the camera moves, shrinking what’s behind the characters and expanding what’s in front of them. It’s a great visual metaphor, whether intentional, happy accident, or just my own overthinking. Working in concert with David Holmes’ jazzy, snappy score, No Sudden Move is an audio/visual treat.
Coming on the heels of Let Them All Talk, No Sudden Move is another reminder of Soderbergh’s brutal efficiency as a filmmaker. Where his Meryl Streep-led drama was rich in emotional depth (thanks in part to Deborah Eisenberg’s script), No Sudden Move is plot heavy. In both cases there isn’t a wasted moment, line, or beat. There’s a lot for Curt and Ronald to uncover, and each reveal deepens the film’s themes. They’re like two kids following a dollar moving down the street without realizing they’re being reeled in. They’re pawns in a game they can’t win. When the script puts all the cards on the table and spells out exactly who gets to win these particular games, it’s a gut punch that reveals the story for the cynical beast that it is. That’s par for the course for a noir-tinged story like this, but when it lands this well it’s hard to beat. That it’s delivered with a candy coating makes it all the more delicious. In No Sudden Move, spontaneity and improvisation is punished swiftly, which almost feels ironic coming from a filmmaker like Soderbergh. The kicker is that, like a pawn in a game of chess, the people forced into spontaneity and improvisation are the people who have already been written off by the real players.
Long story short, it’s good.
No Sudden Move is now streaming on HBOMax