"I take orders from the Octoboss."

No Sudden Move

Like many citizens of the world, I love most of Steven Soderbergh’s movies. Still, the nature of streaming services and the lack of urgency their releases seem to inspire in my brain have left me behind in his return-from-retirement period. I haven’t seen the basketball one, the app one, the laundromat one, surely others.

But my favorite Soderberghs are the crime ones: #1 OUT OF SIGHT, #2 THE LIMEY, #3 the OCEAN’S series. And there was another one about a lady beating people up that I raved about for ten years, but that’s on hiatus for a while. These are all very different from each other in most respects other than quality. But his most recent one was released straight to Home Box Office Maximum and although this review is very late I actually managed to watch that one right away. And I loved it.

NO SUDDEN MOVE is another new mode of Soderbergh crime picture. Maybe it’s closest to THE LIMEY in tone: serious, with a high level of tension, but plenty of dry, dark, odd humor coming out of the characters and situations. Set in Detroit in 1956, it’s the story of small time criminal Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle, THE METEOR MAN), recently out due to overcrowding, still disgraced in the underworld after whatever the fiasco was that got him busted. So it’s either real lucky or awfully damn suspicious that someone he doesn’t know – white middle man Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser, MONKEYBONE) – is offering him five grand for what’s described as “a simple babysitting job” that will take three hours of his time. He doesn’t have to know he’s in a movie to have a pretty good hunch it’ll end up being more complicated than that.

But he accepts the gig, and Jones drives him to pick up the two other guys. None of them know each other. Ronald Russo (Benicio del Toro, LICENCE TO KILL) has a racist tantrum about not sitting in the back with Curt, but the two have one thing in common: wanting to be sure this job is not for Frank, some guy they absolutely will not work for. The third guy, Charley (Kieran Culkin, NOWHERE TO RUN), is confident it isn’t for Frank.

Next we meet the Wertzes – a white middle class suburban family getting ready for their respective days. There is tension in the marriage about fidelity, as indicated by Mary (Amy Seimetz, ALIEN: COVENANT)’s comment about Matt (David Harbour, A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES) wearing cologne again, and his defensive response. She’s about to pour a bowl of cereal for teenage son Matthew (Noah Jupe, FORD V FERRARI) when Curt, Ronald and Charley appear in the kitchen wearing old timey bandit masks, holding guns, and telling everybody to just act like it’s a normal morning. It’s a request the Wertzes all have difficulty fulfilling.

The goal: bring Matt Sr. to the workplace (General Motors) to steal a document out of a safe. If he doesn’t get it, they kill his family. But he’s got his own shit going on, so when he gets there his secretary (and mistress) Paula (Frankie Shaw, JAY AND SILENT BOB REBOOT) sees his freaked out face and is thrilled because she assumes he finally told his wife he was leaving her. No, sorry, didn’t get around to it yet. Some things came up.

You know how these things go. All kinds of shit goes wrong, there are secrets, betrayals and drastic decisions made, people die. Curt and Ronald end up a reluctant team trying to navigate the new terrain, find out how to get these documents for themselves, get money for them, and not get killed. I love how gradually it slides from simple and straight forward to a whole lot to keep track of.

The family is lying to the police about what happened under threat from Ronald. Organized crime investigator Joe Finney (Jon Hamm, SPACE COWBOYS) doesn’t buy it and keeps snooping around. Matt Jr. is pissed at his dad and doesn’t want to play along. There are two different schemes involving a cheater planning to run out on their spouse after a big score, and two different crime families wanting to settle scores. Oh, did I mention that Curt has a book that could expose Bill Duke’s entire gambling empire? Nice to see Duke in scary crime boss mode, wearing sunglasses for the entire movie except one part where he pulls them down. He knows to keep the sword sheathed until he needs it.

Believe it or not SPOILER the whole movie turns out to be about car companies colluding to cover up the amount of pollution they’re causing and what they could/should be doing to lessen it. And it works! It’s a cool crime movie that lets us have fun in that world, while also illustrating that these bastards are more honorable than the less cinematically interesting companies who run both the gangs and the cops in the name of legal capitalistic enterprise. Note that Duke is more lenient toward his data leaker than General Motors is. And that the big boss (uncredited) refuses to give Finney a cut, as if he believes he’s a straight shooter following the rules and ethics guidelines. Hey, we may have doomed the planet, but we did it by the book. We’re the good guys.

I get the impression some people were confused by those themes, but I thought they worked perfectly. To me it wasn’t like KILLING THEM SOFTLY, which I should revisit some day, but at the time it felt like the political messages were very awkwardly grafted on. And it certainly isn’t like some of the genre movies like, say, the new CANDYMAN, where being about a hot button topic is one of the selling points, and is directly explored in the movie in a way that some find didactic. I suppose you could compare it to CHINATOWN – here’s this crime story, with a little mystery, and whattaya know, the villains and the motives happen to be relevant to today, because they’ve always been doing this and they’ve always gotten away with it. It makes the point well even though we just came here for some entertainment and we got what we came for.

This was one of the big Covid-era productions, with Mr. director-of-CONTAGION being one of the pioneers in figuring out how to do it safely. If not for delays it would’ve had Sebastian Stan, John Cena and George Clooney in the cast, but I’m not sure in which roles. Seems perfectly cast as it is, though. Cheadle is the stand out, acting older than I’ve seen him before (except maybe as Miles Davis), and talking, I felt, kind of like Delroy Lindo. Del Toro’s performance isn’t as much of a stretch from what he usually does but it’s a reminder of how great he is – so much of the role could not have possibly been on the page, because it’s so physical. I was laughing just from ways he was standing there or looking at people. He’s so great.

Also since I’ve been branded a Brendan Fraser skeptic due to my controversial mummy opinions I should note that it was really cool seeing him in this looking drastically different from how I’d ever seen him before, not knowing if that’s more for the role or just what he looks like now, and just thinking he fit really well into this sort of casually threatening criminal middleman role.

It’s not based on a book but it feels like it could be, which is a compliment. The script is by Ed Solomon, the same one that co-wrote the BILL & TED movies and MEN IN BLACK. He was also a writer on SUPER MARIO BROS. and does the NOW YOU SEE ME movies. I guess this isn’t entirely out of the blue, though, because he wrote and directed that movie LEVITY, which was pretty serious, from what I gather. Anyway, he’s done good work here, and I wouldn’t mind if he and Soderbergh teamed up again.

(update: oh yeah, as Kit reminded me this is their reteaming after MOSAIC)


This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 29th, 2021 at 10:23 am and is filed under Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

21 Responses to “No Sudden Move”

  1. I liked this one okay. I admit to spending too much mental effort trying to keep up with it, so I’d probably like it better on rewatch. It was a little Elmore Leonard-y, and I liked odd choice to use fisheye lenses.

    Soderbergh is pretty hit-or-miss with me, yet I’d probably still call him one of my favorite directors. It’s always worth checking out what he’s come up with. I love the Oceans. Loved The Knick. I didn’t quite “get” this one, or the basketball one, and I wasn’t really enamored with the boat one, but I really dug the laundromat one. Also caught Unsane recently (now on Hulu), which was nastier than I anticipated, but has a great central performance from Claire Foy.

    Brendan Fraser was also good as a sort-of fixer with a cowboy hat in the FX limited series Trust, which was about the Getty kidnapping. In this one I thought he resembled Orson Welles in Touch of Evil.

  2. Saw this one. Thought it was…pretty darn okay. Good. Honestly how I feel about most of Soderburgh’s movies. They are quality but have a weird film-schooly detatched quality that makes me never care all that much. A hipster making a crime movie. A hipster making an action movie. Hipster making a thriller, a pandemic movie, a caper. But too self-conscious to let it feel like it’s not some formalist intellectual exercise for him.

  3. It was a little Elmore Leonard-y

    Despite the Detroit setting, I actually thought James Ellroy. In that, it was a bunch of hoods slamming up against history, that were either too dim, or too tunnel visioned to understand (or care about) the larger consequences of their actions.

    I’m unsure if I really get the “hipster making a ‘blank’ movie” criticism. Couldn’t you say the same thing about Spielberg? “Hipster making a lovers on the run movie. Hipster making a creature feature. Hipster making a matinée serial, etc”

  4. That would imply that Spielberg was ever hip.

  5. No because Spielberg is a master filmmaker and is decidely not a hipster. Soderburgh IS and has that kind of attitude and style. All of his movies except a few have that film school standoffish quality to let you know they’re there, with their expertly locked down camera dispassionately filming something that actually should be more exciting. It’s an attitude and Spielberg wants to entertain the everloving fuck out of you. Soderburgh wants you to admire his deconstructions.

  6. I guess I’m unclear on the definition of “hipster”
    I always equated that word with art school/film school, which Spielberg certainly was.
    (although, I feel that word has entered the realm of post-Alanis Morissette “ironic” and more currently, “literally”. Words that are mis-used so often than they begin to mean both anything and nothing at all)

    That said, I find the notion that the maker of Ocean’s 11/12/13, Out of Sight, Logan Lucky, Magic Mike, The Knick, etc has no desire to entertain to be a confounding one. I guess you’re saying so many people found them entertaining despite themselves?

  7. I never said NO desire to entertain. But he has a clinical approach to a lot of his stuff. And no, not everyone who goes to film school is a hipster at all.

  8. And no, not everyone who goes to film school is a hipster at all

    I meant personality, not establishment. I don’t believe Tarantino went to film school, but he certainly is film school

  9. Tarantino definitely has a hipster personality. But if you weren’t comparing go into the actual school, then Spielberg is even less of a hipster. He was considered the square back in the day, and would get grief from his more hip contemporaries like Brian de Palma, who definitely had a deconstructionist agenda to what he was doing a lot of times. DePalma actually made movies about hip culture while Spielberg was making suburb flicks.


    Funny how things work sometimes. The morning after I watched this one I woke up to find that the catalytic converter on my car had been hacked off and stolen. A double awakening to a new thing in the realm of quick, easy and lucrative car thievery. Also, thought this movie was terrific.

  11. He was considered the square back in the day

    Well, tell that to Billy Wilder, Robert Aldrich, Don Siegel, and other the other guys that couldn’t get a job because they were considered old and stodgy once he (and his cohorts) took over.

    That’s why at least personally, I only use ‘hipster’ as a truncation of the term ‘hipster doofus’ (aka art school, film school, pretentious, try-hard, artisté, etc, etc). Actual ‘hipness’ is in the eye of the beholder

  12. I have to chime in to defend Soderbergh of being detached and clinical. I usually get a sense from his films that he takes a lighter approach, but also that he’s a bit more off the cuff than someone like Wes Anderson, who is absolutely a hipster, but I still love his movies.

    I actually think there’s a real comparison to be made between Soderbergh and Clint Eastwood. Both are incredibly prolific, which is the result of a jazzy, improvisational style.

  13. I think in general I like both hipsters and nerds. The terms can be used pejoratively but they can also describe the type of people I like or relate to. Nothing wrong with hipness by itself. By definition anything cool was hip at some time, right?

  14. But jojo hipster doesn’t generally mean hipster doofus…so like, hipsters to me usually mean doing things in a more “this is how I do it like it or not” but it’s also kind of countercultre-ish. Like, Soderburgh would make an action movie like Haywire…but he would not make a John Wick with that many long fights and huge action scenes. No he’s going to do the minimalist thing (which is more rooted in 70s spare thriller mode and thus less mainstream). And it was kind of a flop because it didn’t really deliver the goods like a regular commercial audience wanted.

    As for Spielberg, he was definitely hipper than all of those 70 year old guys were, a few of whom had already lost it (sorry for mentioning age I know it’s a sore topic around here). But of the new breed of hipsters, he was the dork. BUT, that’s also why he was so hugely successful. You can be cutting edge for only so long and once those guys got past that, Spielberg was still able to crank out great shit and kept having massive hit after massive hit…cause he didn’t mind delivering the goods an audience wanted to see.

  15. I’m curious to know which out of FEDORA, ALL THE MARBLES, and ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ was made by a guy who’d “lost it” by the time of New Hollywood.

  16. I’m curious to know which out of FEDORA, ALL THE MARBLES, and ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ was made by a guy who’d “lost it” by the time of New Hollywood.

    If you’re addressing me, well, I’m curious as to where I said anybody “lost it” (quotes, even)

  17. jojo: Nah, I was responding to Muh.

  18. jojo: Nah, I was responding to Muh.

    Oh, sorry. I’ll totally missed that in Muh’s response. I thought I purposely brought up people who hadn’t lost it, so I was like “????????”

    My fault

  19. Vern- just want to plug MOSAIC here…. I slept on it when it first came out, but at the beginning of quarantine I stumbled across it and it was the first thing I was able to watch from beginning to end without getting distracted. The gimmicky way it was first released is unfortunate, but when it’s taken as a regular old TV show, it’s up there with the best things Soderbergh has ever done, in my opinion. Also one of the best limited series HBO’s got on offer. I couldn’t recommend it more.

    Batty- I love that comparison between Eastwood and Soderbergh. Never would have occurred to me but I can totally see it.

    I’d push back against the idea that Soderbergh’s and Anderson’s outputs are at all similar, though (other than the audiences their films get marketed to). Soderbergh’s work to me is defined by a sense of curiosity about the people of the world: a fascination with human behavior, an analytical familiarity with human interaction, a focus on relationships/differences/boundaries between individuals and societies, and the things humans tend to find important enough to be motivated into action by. By contrast, I’d say Anderson’s movies are defined by an overall lack of familiarity with actual human behavior and relationships – even a disinterest in them. His movies are special because he’s found a way to get his meticulous personal fantasies up on screen, still in their hermetically sealed packaging. Whereas Soderbergh movies are special because they reflect reality in a lot of interesting ways. It’s probably obvious whose approach I prefer!

  20. Also nb to Vern – No Sudden Move *was* Solomon and Sodes reteaming after Mosaic/the app one, and they have another app one plotted-maybe-written, and a crime miniseries greenlit at HBO Maximillian.

    (The app version was great and dense, with the wealth of additional scenes, footage and documents letting you get deep into individual characters without tipping the murder mystery part. The miniseries version has a similar “not sure if any of the characters even know what’s going on” tone to No Sudden Move, so you’d probably vibe on it too.)

  21. Watched this due to your recommendation, and loved it. Not enough movies have double MacGuffins.

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