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edge staff writer


Soderbergh’s ‘No Sudden Move’ a complicated caper

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Remember when Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement?

You’d be forgiven if you didn’t, if for no other reason than the fact that he never actually, you know, stopped making stuff. He said 2013’s “Side Effects” would be his last, but he almost immediately helmed a number of TV projects along with directing Off-Broadway and some fascinating recuts on his website.

Since returning to feature filmmaking with 2017’s “Logan Lucky,” Soderbergh has spent the past few years cementing his reputation as one of Hollywood’s most progressive and experimental mainstream filmmakers. He’s been unafraid to try different methods of filming (such as making 2018’s “Unsane” entirely on an iPhone) and distribution models (self-distribution and fully embracing streaming services).

That tradition continues with his latest, the period heist/caper movie “No Sudden Move,” currently streaming on HBO Max. It’s a convoluted thriller featuring a typically dynamite Soderbergh ensemble cast, all of it presented through the skewed lens of the director’s unique perspective. While it occasionally threatens to collapse under the weight of its own narrative complexity, the film largely holds up thanks to the considerable talents of those both behind and in front of the camera.

In 1954 Detroit, Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle, TV’s “Black Monday”) has just gotten out of prison. His sole goal is to buy back a piece of property that once belonged to him. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), an opportunity arises to make a good deal of money quickly. A mysterious man known only as Jones (Brendan Fraser, TV’s “Doom Patrol”) makes him an offer – three hours work for five grand. Curt is suspicious – he still has a lot of enemies – but he accepts.

It’s not a one-man job, however. Jones also brings in Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold”), a lothario of sorts whose current fling Vanessa (Julia Fox, “PVT CHAT”) happens to be the wife of a local mob boss. Another shady character named Charley (Kieran Culkin, TV’s “Succession”) joins the team.

The job? Someone wants to get their hands on a secret document. They’ve determined that the best way to do that is to force mid-level manager Matt Wertz (David Harbour, “Black Widow”) to retrieve it from his boss’s office. The plan is for Charley to accompany Matt to the office to ensure the job gets done, while Curt and Ronald stay behind at the Wertz residence to keep an eye on his family – wife Mary (Amy Seimetz, “Archenemy”), son Matthew (Noah Jupe, “A Quiet Place Part II”) and daughter Peggy (Lucy Holt in her feature debut) – as an insurance policy.

However, when the initial job goes sideways, things quickly spiral out of hand. Curt and Ronald decide to take matters into their own hands, forcing Matt to follow their lead despite his misgivings. Others begin to insert themselves into the equation, from both sides of the law – cops on one side, mob bosses on the other – as these small-timers try to work their way up the food chain.

Rest assured – there’s a LOT more to this narrative than the aforementioned might indicate. Movies such as this are incredibly difficult to synopsize precisely because so much happens. And the reality is that the plot moves in some unanticipated directions, swerving and juking and generally zigging when you expect it to zag. So much so that it occasionally becomes a touch difficult to totally follow; it’s a movie that very much requires your full attention. Anyone who has watched this kind of crime film knows to expect some degree of double-crossing, but man … just you wait.

Soderbergh’s no stranger to complicated plot mechanics, though; he’s a guy who knows how to make his tangled threads comprehensible to the viewer even as he’s continuing to tie more knots. He does this through a clarity of storytelling unmatched among his mainstream filmmaking peers, making his choices with a deliberateness that allows the central tenets of the narrative to shine through and carry forward unbroken.

All that, plus an eye for aesthetic choices both idiosyncratic and deliberate. Subtle lighting shifts. Forced perspective shots. Moment after moment where the “rules” of filmmaking are violated and/or ignored. And every single frame a specific and intentional choice, with a thoughtful rationale behind each one. One doesn’t often describe a filmmaker as meticulous, but if the shoe fits, right? Like it or hate it, there’s no denying that Soderbergh speaks a visual language all his own.

All this, plus we’re looking at a killer cast. Cheadle’s no stranger to the Soderbergh heist movie – he has all three “Ocean’s” movies under his belt – but he’s never been asked/allowed to do so much. He’s a wildly underrated talent; roles like this are a reminder that he’s far more than Tony Stark’s second banana. Del Toro has always been hit or miss for me, but he never fails to be memorable. This turn is more hit – we don’t often see him take a swing at being a little dim, but it works here. Harbour, who’s legit one of the best character actors out there right now, once again gives us a masterclass in embodying an archetype – in this case, the buttoned-down suburbanite pushed to the limit (I won’t spoil it, but he has an absolutely fantastic fight scene).

Fraser takes advantage of his beefiness to establish a menacing stolidity. Culkin has sneakily become a low-key excellent actor. Seimetz is a jittery chain-smoking delight. Other folks who turn up – Ray Liotta, Bill Duke, an A-list uncredited cameo that I won’t spoil – only contribute to the overall excellence of the performances. First-rate across the board.

“No Sudden Move” probably isn’t pantheon Soderbergh, but it fits in nicely in the tier just below the tip-top. This is a smart, complex heist movie, one driven by great performances. Whether you’re talking on the movie or in the movie, no one puts a crew together quite like Steven Soderbergh.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 July 2021 18:20


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