Remember when Steven Soderbergh retired? A decade ago, the filmmaker was planning to hang up the camera, so to speak. Since then? Well, he’s only helmed Behind the Candelabra, episodes of The Knick, Logan Lucky, episodes of Mosaic, Unsane, High Flying Bird, The Laundromat (both in 2019), and Let Them All Talk just last year. Wow. Now, his latest movie is out in No Sudden Move, and it’s Soderbergh playing with a lot of themes we’ve seen from him before. On the one hand, that may leave some folks wishing he was experimenting more. That being said, it you get past some of the similarities, it’s clear that the director is playing around as much as ever. This time, it’s just on HBO Max, as opposed to in theaters.
No Sudden Move is kind of a Soderbergh greatest hits collection, but will anyone mind? Probably not, frankly. Cross Ocean’s Eleven with The Informant! and Side Effects, albeit with a fairly straightly serious turn, and that’s a hint at where we’re at here. In fact, you can throw in some elements of Burn After Reading, too, though obviously not the humor of it all. No one is reinventing the wheel here, but noir fans, as well as Soderbergh junkies, are going to get a kick out of the film.
Set in 1954 Detroit, the story follows a group of small time criminals who get in way over their heads. Recruited by a shadowy figure in Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser), Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle), fresh out of jail, and Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro) are paired with Charlie (Kieran Culkin) for a seemingly easy job. Curt and Ronald are to “babysit” the wife (Amy Seimetz) and son (Noah Jupe) of Matt Wertz (David Harbour), while Charlie takes him to retrieve a document. Simple, right? Of course, it doesn’t come close to being that, with a dead body thrown in for good measure.
Attempting to make sense of it all, Curt and Ronald set out to figure out just what happened. At the same time, Matt is sized up by a cop (Jon Hamm) skeptical of his story that he was the victim of a random break-in. The deeper everyone gets, the more confused most become. Who’s pulling the strings? What’s truly at stake. These are questions everyone is asking, but this being a Soderbergh flick, the answers are unlikely to be easy or easily satisfying.
This cast is stacked. Don Cheadle getting a leading man role is always a pleasure, with a similar sentiment going for Benicio Del Toro. The latter gets a more interesting character to play, though the former has a presence about him that’s utterly compelling. Brendan Fraser plays effectively against type, while Amy Seimetz steals her scenes. Supporting players here include (but are not limited to) Bill Duke, Julia Fox, Ray Liotta, Frankie Shaw, and even a cameo from Matt Damon. Everyone is good, even if no one is quite great.
Steven Soderbergh takes a screenplay from Ed Solomon and goes full-on noir with it. The most experimental thing here is that Soderbergh, again serving as his own cinematographer, utilizes a fisheye lens. It’s a love it or hate it choice, and aesthetically it didn’t work for me, but I respect its boldness. The very wide lenses have a deliberate intention, whether or not it works for you. Solomon’s script doesn’t have any memorable lines and gets very convoluted, arguably going overboard in narrative developments, but Soderbergh is an accomplished enough storyteller to keep you from getting confused. Plus, he directs his large cast with aplomb, as we’ve come to expect from him. No Sudden Move is no exception. Did you expect any less?
No Sudden Move is lesser Steven Soderbergh, to be fair, but that still means you’re in for some quality entertainment. If you tend to like the director, this should be up your alley. Few will consider this a masterpiece, but I’d be equally surprised if anyone hated it. Essentially, this is just more solid Soderbergh, which is never a bad thing.