I’m going to punch you now, sir. I’m punching you. This is going to be a punch.
No Sudden Move (2021) feels like a throwback in a lot of ways. It’s the type of crime thriller that was popular in the ‘90s—specifically calling back to the film noirs from the ‘40s, ‘50s, etc.—it has a deliberative and complicated pace, it stars Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro, and it’s directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Any new Soderbergh film is cause for celebration. Ever since he “retired” in 2013, he’s had a hell of a run of films, TV shows, and experimental properties. Even a Soderbergh film I don’t like is often interesting or unusual on average. That’s all I want from a movie these days. If I don’t love it, I at least want it to be unique. No Sudden Move doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but even a throwback to mediocre ‘90s cinema can seem like a novelty in these sadly dire times of big budget filmmaking.
The film is set in the 1950’s and starts with a basic setup: a couple of down-on-their-luck goons are hired for what is apparently a very simple job. Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) and Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro) are hired for a “babysitting” job: they need to watch Matt Wertz’s (David Harbour) family while he’s escorted to his work to steal some important documents for the people who hired them. Seems simple enough, but the Elmore Leonard/James Ellroy vibes of the story are good indicators that things are about to spiral out of control for these men.
I’m not sure if this is a compliment or a criticism, but No Sudden Move seems like the third or fourth entry in a book series about Curt Goynes. The film does a great job of making Curt seem lived-in, and Cheadle is fantastic as usual. But the setting and story end up seeming like an excuse to include this character in some action more than being important on their own. Again, I don’t really think I’m complaining … I think I just want those Curt Goynes books to actually exist.
Ray Liotta has a very fun turn as Frank Capelli, the mobster Ronald works for occasionally. Also, get used to learning names quickly. Frank Capelli and Aldrick Watkins (Bill Duke) are names that are said repeatedly before we ever see the characters on-screen. It feels natural, but it can also get you to drift into the weeds and lose the plot. There’s an entire back-story about a stolen loan shark’s book that is important to the resolution of the story, but ultimately so disconnected from the events we’re seeing that it easily slips from your mind.
Soderbergh knows how to shoot a film, so it isn’t surprising that this film looks fantastic. He did use some interesting wide-angle lenses that gave certain scenes curved corners and, when panning, an interesting distortion. I love when Soderbergh plays with different ways of shooting things—his iPhone-shot Unsane (2018) is fantastic—so I’m not complaining, but the predominance of it early on can certainly be off-putting.
A very nice late addition to the film is a surprisingly depressing and realistic look at the rich and powerful. The 1950s and the 2020s aren’t different in that regard maybe someone lesser is able to pull a few coins from their pockets, but there’s always more where that came from, and they have the power of the government and the authorities to back them up. The entire final act of No Sudden Move is a lot more poignant than you’d expect from a funny, violent, crime caper that kind of sits in the middle.
Ultimately No Sudden Move is worth checking out. The cast alone would compel me to watch it, but Solomon and Soderbergh also craft a decent crime film with a satisfying resolution. I haven’t mentioned Brendan Fraser at all, but his middle-man fixer character was fantastic and it was really nice to see him in movies again. I suppose that’s what it boils down to: the fantastic cast. The story is fine on its own and they elevate it, so definitely check it out.