Saturday 6 November 2021

Movie Review: No Sudden Move (2021)

A slow-burning crime thriller packed with characters, No Sudden Move delivers a stellar neo-noir mood despite a surplus of plot.

Detroit, 1954. Small-time gangster Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) has managed to antagonize rival gang leaders Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta) and Aldrick Watkins (Bill Duke). Eager for cash, he accepts an assignment from go-between Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) for a seemingly simple job. Curt along with enforcers Ron Russo (Benicio del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin) are to hold hostage the family of General Motors accountant Matt Wertz (David Harbour) to force him into stealing a file from the safe of his boss Forbert.

No one is supposed to get hurt, but the plan goes awry. Curt and Ron team-up, determined to find out who intended to double-cross them and why the contents of the safe were so important. Detective Joe Finney (Jon Hamm) gets involved, while Curt and Ron stumble upon high-level corporate secrets and plenty of opportunities to make money, but only if they can survive each other and the many gangsters now in pursuit.

Written by Ed Solomon and directed by Steven Soderbergh with beautiful period details but unnecessary fish-eye lens stunt cinematography, No Sudden Move is a cerebral incursion into multi-layered heist criminality. The film demands and rewards attention and curiosity as competing agendas weave multiple underworld types into a tangle. The abundance of people and incidents deserves a longer running time than the available 115 minutes, and while Soderbergh just about manages to keep the material under control, the final act threatens to over-reach and sacrifices contentment for hurried scampering to the next twist.

In classic noir style, every character has an angle aiming at self-benefit, either obvious or covert, and trust is a rare commodity. Fidelity is in particularly short supply, initial target Matt Wertz acting out a marriage to Mary (Amy Seimetz) while deep into an affair with his boss Forbert's secretary (Frankie Shaw). More marital disharmony is eroding the household of gang boss Frank and his wife Vanessa (Julia Fox), and all the cheating serves as potent fuel for several memorable sharp curves.

Not satisfied with already dense convolutions, Soderbergh injects racial tension between Curt and Ron, and more tangential references to the destructive impacts of the automotive age on Black neighbourhoods. The latter undercurrent deserves more thorough exposition, but here is rolled into the industry's well-worn tendencies to pick the bottom line over health and safety. An uncredited celebrity intervention underlines the theme.

Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro lead the cast with deep-etched world weariness. Both carry the weight of characters on the far end of long years scratching out a dangerous living, now with a rare chance to win big. Awash in bags of money, malevolent intentions, no-neck thugs, and uncompromising connivance, No Sudden Move luxuriates in ambitious complexity.

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