No Sudden Move (2021)

Steven Soderbergh | 1hr 55min

It starts with a small, simple job – send a businessman to retrieve an important document from his boss’ safe at the office, and keep his family hostage back home in the meantime. Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro are the contractors, Curt and Ronald, though the identity of whoever is hiring them remains suspiciously elusive. Bit by bit, No Sudden Move spins out into a wild, sprawling caper across 1950s Detroit, as Steven Soderbergh calls in Bill Duke, Julia Fox, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, and Matt Damon among other stars to fill in his ensemble of low-level criminals, high-flying gangsters, business executives, and police officers. The narrative itself is a gripping labyrinth of double-crosses and power plays, all pointing towards an inevitable conclusion – it’s the big guy that will always get the last say.

Comparisons might reasonably be drawn to Coen Brothers films where carefully planned crimes descend into chaos and perpetrators wrestle with questions of fate, though the dark irony of No Sudden Move is rarely so farcical. For the most part, Soderbergh plays his thrills and drama straight, leading us through a frenzied first act before taking his foot off the pedal and letting his plot unfold at a milder, though no less engrossing pace. Ed Solomon’s dialogue moves rhythmically, and with this in mind Soderbergh exerts a fine control over his suspenseful atmosphere, deliberately running it up against the fast pacing of his editing and at one point shrilly ringing a telephone in the background, building the scene to a panicked crescendo.

As Curt and Ronald navigate their way to the top of corporate and criminal ladders beyond their understanding, Soderbergh slowly builds an underworld of shady business secrets hidden within the quiet, conservative suburbs of Michigan. His characteristic yellow lighting is put to superb use in this setting, complementing the mustard-coloured 50s décor ridden all through seedy motels and wallpapered living rooms.

In his skilful camerawork, Soderbergh lends a paranoid edge to these lavishly designed sets reminiscent of Alan Pakula’s political thrillers in the 70s, especially as Soderbergh’s high and low angles turn patterned carpets and ceilings into visually sumptuous backdrops. Every so often this world is tipped off-kilter with the occasional Dutch tilt, and if that isn’t uneasy enough, Soderbergh’s slightly fish-eye lens distorts his shots just that little bit more, compressing the edges of his frames in such a way to throw this familiar, all-American setting into a permanent state of agitation.

Of course, Soderbergh’s visual flair always works to underscore how out-of-depth Curt and Ronald are in their journey to find who is pulling the strings at the top. With a large sum of money waiting for them on the other end, and an ensemble of gangsters, police, and businessmen blocking the way, the stakes are nail-bitingly high. To think that the little guy ever stood a chance against the total sum of these forces though is foolish. While low-level crooks are fighting among themselves, there is a dry irony to the ease with which the money is claimed back by those holding real power. As one wealthy executive puts it:

“It’s money, and I have lots of money. I will continue to have more still. It’s like a lizard’s tail. Cut it off, the damn thing just grows back.”

It is almost frustrating seeing this character give in so easily to blackmail. The stakes that have been set so high for us are minuscule to him. Such is the way with virtually every narrative thread in No Sudden Move though. In Soderbergh’s carefully crafted world of greed and treachery, victory only manifests when it is granted by the elite, and it is snatched away just as easily.

No Sudden Movie is currently available to rent or buy on iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon Prime Video.

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