Steven Soderbergh‘s comedic crime thriller No Sudden Move marks the cerebral, adventurous filmmaker’s return to the twisty thrills of Out of Sight or the Ocean trilogy, albeit with tacked-on sociopolitical messages. The result is infinitely more complex, sophisticated, and erudite than the majority of films currently streaming or in theaters. It is undoubtedly worth your time, but Soderbergh shoots himself in the foot with too much muchness – something he’s been known to do before.
Per usual, he assembles a jaw-dropping ensemble cast, allowing each star performer at least one moment to shine. The stylistic flourishes are spot on as well – including the period detail and fish-eye-lens effect that permeates every shot. But, sadly, the filmmaker overcomplicates things, weighing down what could have been a razor-sharp study of desperate men, and how they personify this country’s incessant greed and toxic masculinity, with abundant plot machinations.
The year is 1954. Recently released criminal Curt (Don Cheadle) is paired with hoodlums Ronald (Benicio Del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin) by big boss Doug (Brendan Fraser) to carry out what at first seems like a simple task: retrieve a highly incriminating transcript. Things turn increasingly, and expectedly, more complicated when they take the seemingly hapless accountant Matt (David Harbor) and his family hostage.
“…carry out what at first seems like a simple task: retrieve a highly incriminating transcript.”
At the risk of spoiling the fun, I’ll just say a tricky game of “who can out-back-stab who” ensues, involving law enforcement agent Joe (Jon Hamm), two other mafia bosses, Frank (Ray Liotta) and Aldrick (Bill Duke), as well as Frank’s wife, and Ronald’s girlfriend, Vanessa (Julia Fox). The transcript itself contains information that’s bigger than all of the characters’ petty ambitions put together. If you don’t keep up, this film will lose you.
Although Soderbergh complicates his cinematic dish with too many flavors, No Sudden Move still offers plenty of bites to savor. Frequent collaborator, DJ, and composer David Holmes complements the narrative with his jazzy, funky score. Ed Solomon’s script is crammed with zingers, delivered perfectly by the cast, all of whom seem to be having a blast. It’s great to see these actors work, but there’s simply too much plot for any character to be deeply fleshed out. Each one exists to serve a purpose, drive the narrative along – aside, perhaps, for Cheadle’s heavily-accented, hard-to-read Curt, who imbues the proceedings with an iota of real soul. That being said, a special extended cameo (as if the film couldn’t get higher on the star wattage scale) may just be the highlight.
No Sudden Move functions well enough as a satire about this country’s greed and corruption, with traces of racial, social, and environmental injustices simmering under the surface. But, really, it works best when the characters are just riffing off one another. Things seem to drift apart, plot and sense-wise, then coalesce again. Soderbergh twists and layers and pulls the rug from underneath your feet. After the 20th fall, you may want him to stop with all the sudden moves.
"…the cast...[seems] to be having a blast."