A new Steven Soderbergh movie used to be an event. This one, however, isn’t even getting a cinema release. Also, Soderbergh used to come up with the snappiest of names (like Out of Sight). By contrast, the wannabe-clever title No Sudden Move casts a spell of tedium so complete you may well lose the will to live/turn on your TV. But put all that aside. Because the actual film is great.
A twisty heist thriller set in 1950s Detroit, starring Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta and cult icon Bill Duke (as well as Matt Damon, in a cameo), it’s like a shabbier, more substantial Ocean’s Eleven.
Tiny, fawn-eyed Cheadle is skint ex-con Curt Goynes, forced to take a job he knows is too good to be true. Along with two guys he’s never met, one of them called Ronald Russo (del Toro), Curt has to “babysit” the wife and two children of a GM accountant, Matt Wertz (Harbour), who has access to a safe that supposedly contains a document of great worth. The babysitting gig does not go well and soon Curt, Ronald and Matt are racing around town, trying to figure out why a few pieces of paper mean so much to Motor City’s elite.
Cheadle’s hushed intensity is always a draw. So is del Toro’s ability to make stupidity fun. Ronald is a great lummox.
It’s Harbour, though, who had me sweating and giggling throughout. You should know that Matt has over-stretched himself. As well as having a miserably intelligent wife (the superbly hunched Amy Seimetz), he also has a canny, pedal-to-the-metal mistress (Frankie Shaw; terrifying). Matt is not constitutionally designed for corporate espionage. Or indeed any kind of rebellion. His distress, during the scene where he has to behave atypically with his boss, is hugely entertaining. Says the desperate Matt, “I’m going to punch you now, Sir! I love my job, Sir!”
Meanwhile, Hamm, as suave detective Joe Finney, keeps us guessing (is he an alpha male or a puffed-up lickspittle? We only find out at the very end). Hamm’s best scene – which involves banter with Damon - is almost too painful to watch. Hamm, famously beautiful, is one of the least vain actors alive. What a mensch.
Because this is a Soderbergh movie, the camera-work matters. The wide-angle lenses create weird effects: images warp and darken at the edges, trees behind crisp faces are pure fuzz and red coats blaze. The mood, basically, is oozy and surreal. It’s like we’ve stumbled into the dream of one of these soiled guys and the gleaming authenticity of the fancy buildings (the whole thing was filmed in Detroit and that’s the real General Motors lobby we’re seeing) only adds to the quietly crazy mood. Is this city grand or toxically grotty? Soderbergh’s subliminal point is that it’s both.
No Sudden Move has an eco theme that links it to Erin Brockovich and currently holds a 91% rating on Rotten Tomates. It would work brilliantly on the big-screen. But you can see why Warners are treating it like a poor relation.
A-lister George Clooney was originally going to be in the movie, but dropped out for health reasons. As demonstrated by the dire fate of The Many Saints of Newark (currently losing Warners a fortune), non-starry period gangster flicks, in the time of Covid, do not put bums on cinema seats. They put bums on sofas.
No biggie. Slouch back and enjoy the prolific Soderbergh’s 35th movie. It might not move you straight away. By the end, though, you’ll be buzzing.
115mins, 15. On Sky Cinema and streaming service NOW from 9 October