Remember when Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring? Doesn’t that feel like eons ago? Back in 2013, he announced that Side Effects (which, don’t judge, is probably my favorite of his movies) was to be his last theatrical release because he was fed up with the business. Yet like Jack Twist once said to Ennis Del Mar, Soderbergh turned to Hollywood and said, “I wish I knew how to quit you!” and returned to filmmaking with 2017’s Logan Lucky. He has since made Unsane, High Flying Bird, The Laundromat, Let Them All Talk, and now No Sudden Move. Seeing as he’s one of the great filmmakers we have, it’s a relief that he didn’t know how to quit them.
Having said that, Soderbergh’s High Flying Bird bored me to tears, and The Laundromat was a dud. Yet the HBO Max release Let Them All Talk was a smooth, small beauty, and No Sudden Move, also recently released on HBO Max, is also in its own way a beauty. Here is a movie that has perhaps been made before. Which, at this point, isn’t exactly a fair statement, since movies have been around for 100+ years. Yet when you’re making a movie like No Sudden Move, which is like making a movie like Chinatown, which is like making a movie like Double Indemnity, you can get away with familiarity as long as the filmmaker provides their own spin, and a worthy story to add to the spin. Which Soderbergh has done, which ultimately makes the film worth seeing.
Set in Detroit in the 1950’s, Soderbergh reunites his Traffic stars Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro (who won an Oscar for the aforementioned film). Cheadle is Curt, Del Toro is Ronald, and both are criminals who are apart of a band of criminals led by Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) and featuring Charley (Kieran Culkin). Someone else works above all of these people, but that’s for you to find out. Anyways, these four are after a contract that belongs to the boss of Matt Wertz (David Harbour). So, practically dressed like the Green Hornet, Curt, Ronald and Charley enter Matt’s house, holding him and his family at gunpoint, and force Matt to go to his bosses’ office and unlock the safe that is holding the aforementioned contract.
Matt is unfamiliar with the code to the safe, yet his bosses’ assistant, who happens to be Matt’s mistress (they mention this detail in front of his entire family), does. Infidelity is also present with the Ronald character who is sleeping with Vanessa (Julia Fox, strong here but brilliant in Uncut Gems), the wife of a fellow adversary, Frank (Ray Liotta). Anyways, things go awry quickly, which cause other things to go awry, mostly do to potential betrayal, which leads to a murder of one of the members of the group. Said murder leads to pretty much everyone else left in the house to get to the bottom of the betrayal, and for us to figure out what is going on. All that I’ll say is that if you think the set up of this film is the only trace of deception, brace yourself.
The acting from the pretty large ensemble (Soderbergh is no first-timer when it comes to ensembles, as present in the Ocean’s trilogy, Traffic and Magic Mike, to name a few) is pretty strong. Particularly Cheadle and Del Toro, who are the true stars here. The script by Ed Solomon is sharp, in its twists and its turns- said twists and turns are pretty surprising at times and they make the film a cut above your usual thriller. That and Soderbergh’s direction. This is one smooth film, in the way it’s filmed (it can only be assumed that Soderbergh served as the director of photography) and the way Soderbegh’s style compliments the great, Jazzy score from David Arnold. Soderbergh, even after decades of filmmaking, has still got it.
No Sudden Move is the work of a true, expert craftsman, yet in my eyes, it isn’t quite a great film. There are certainly shades of it, but it isn’t quite there. The reason being because the first half is so intriguing, and while the latter half is engaging, it also feels a bit busy. More and more characters are introduced, more and more plot threads are involved, as are themes involving big bad business and politics and the economy. Sure, Soderbergh certainly ups the ante with this final hour too, due to the consistent twists, yet he also at times juggles so much, and has the audience juggle so much, that the journey getting there can feel somewhat worked.
The film is still worth seeing though. What works, works wonders, and it’s all so well made that the clutter might not even matter. Look at a film like Inherent Vice, where part of the novelty is that you’re not supposed to understand what is happening. It doesn’t feel like that was the intention here, but in ways, it could’ve been. For my money, the simpler, smaller Let Them All Talk was a better time, but at the end of the day, we know that Soderbergh has still got it, and we’re thankful for it.