Synopsis – A group of criminals are brought together under mysterious circumstances and have to work together to uncover what’s really going on when their simple job goes completely sideways.
My Take – Without a doubt Steven Soderbergh is one of the best filmmakers of our time, owing to his body of work ranging across genres. Known specifically for his constant experimentation with film making techniques, from how stories are told to how they are made like choosing an innovative approach to handle the said story for example, his psychological horror Unsane (2018) and sports drama High Flying Bird (2019) were both shot on iPhones.
However, personally I have found myself more captivated by his heist stories like the stylish popcorn Ocean’s Trilogy and the sadly underrated yet brilliant Logan Lucky (2017), probably due to the star power attached, the presence of snappy dialogues and complex plots that keeps us guessing till the very end.
Thankfully, director Soderbergh‘s latest HBO Max release, continues the delightful trend. Sure, it doesn’t live up to its complete potential, as its fusion of darkly comic neo-noir and aspiration to be something more is slightly clumsy, but its rock-solid cast, writer Ed Solomon‘s densely plotted script that is full of double-crosses, and Soderbergh‘s stylish direction make it quite entertaining.
Simply told, this is yet another welcome addition to filmmaker Soderbergh’s post-retirement filmography that has yielded five feature films in only four years with another already in production (KIMI).
Set in 1955, Detroit, the story follows Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle), a small-time crook, who is hired by the mysterious Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) along with Ronald Russo (Benicio del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin), to get a certain document from an accountant named Matt Wertz (David Harbour), for his employers. While Curt and Ronald’s jobs are to hold Matt’s wife, Mary (Amy Seimetz), and children, Matthew (Noah Jupe) and Peggy (Lucy Holt), hostage, Charley has to take Matt to his office so he can retrieve the document from his boss’s locker.
But as one might expect from a tense situation with masked men, loaded guns and a terrified family, things quickly goes awry. Amid the fallout, Curt and Ronald realize that they’ve been drawn into a major conspiracy, and over the next few days, they run afoul of any number of nasty characters, ranging from Aldrick Watkins (Bill Duke), a local kingpin who Curt has wronged, Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta), with whose wife, Vanessa (Julia Fox), Ronald is having an affair, Detective Joe Finney (Jon Hamm), a nosy police detective, and of course, Mr. Jones’s discreet employers.
What follows is an impressively curvy series of both occupational and sexual double crosses that culminates in an enormous amount of money changing hands, a bunch of people dying, and a handful of folks getting what they want.
Here, director Soderbergh, turns the film into a dizzying number of things. It starts as a crime caper, makes a move into gangster film territory, and somehow manages to tie its many disparate threads together in the form of a period drama about the destruction of Detroit. It’s all the more dazzling that it does all this while being slickly entertaining and assured.
But what is most surprising is the rabbit hole it all lead to. As with any story about criminals, a big part of the fun is what happens when a room full of people who categorically cannot trust each other are forced to, even though they know full well that someone is likely to be a double-crosser.
The film layers in the backstabbing and betrayal with a real sense of danger and comedy, but what really makes it linger is the ways each turn of the plot skirts a different part of the city it’s set in, expanding not only the narrative, but the scope of the crime being committed, and the definition of who the real criminals are.
However, while the plot grows increasingly intricate (more characters and subplots come into focus, it does become a case of the script juggling too much in one film that we’re left familiar with these people, but not close enough to understand them.
Thankfully, what keeps the story from feeling overwhelming is its darkly comedic tone and the magnetism of its cast, who make each individual scene captivating and entertaining even when the whole becomes a little much.
Director Soderbergh and screenwriter Ed Solomon also try to elevate the material by touching upon the social issues of the time like racial tension, redlining and capitalist greed like the disastrous environmental consequences of an unchecked automobile industry. These matters aren’t always woven as smoothly into the story as they could have been, but they give the film a potent edge nonetheless.
You’re pulled in by the suave camerawork and Hannah Beachler‘s rich mid-century production design, but you’re also made aware of the inequities churning beneath the surface, even though I am sure some may find too convoluted. Especially when director Soderbergh tries to explain the broader scheme in historical layman’s terms as closing text in the end credits.
The performances are as expected on point. Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro in particular are compelling as crooks who hate each other, and who have an uncanny knack for keeping a steady hand even as the walls close in around them. David Harbour really sells his role, Brendan Fraser brings an interesting menacing turn, Kieran Culkin is at his smarmy best, and Amy Seimetz in particular shines in the thankless role of Matt Wertz’s wife Mary.
In other roles, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, Bill Duke, Noah Jupe, Julia Fox, Craig Grant and Frankie Shaw are terrific too. Matt Damon too shines in his delightful cameo. On the whole, ‘No Sudden Move’ is a twisty and stylish fun dramedy that is dark and subtly amusing.
Directed – Steven Soderbergh
Rated – R
Run Time – 115 minutes