You could spin the Wheel of Genres and it could land on virtually any category of feature film — and there would be at least one outstanding movie by Steven Soderbergh to fit the bill.
Groundbreaking Indie: “sex, lies and videotape” (1989).
Oscar Vehicle Biopic: “Erin Brockovich” (1999).
Social Commentary Classic: “Traffic” (2000).
Star-Powered Franchise: “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001), et al.
Pandemic Thriller: “Contagion” (2011).
Sexy Comedy: “Magic Mike” (2012).
iPhone-Shot Psychological Horror: “Unsane” (2018).
It’s a stunningly versatile canon of work.
“No Sudden Move” isn’t Soderbergh’s first foray into neo-noir crime films; he delivered back-to-back gems with “Out of Sight” in 1998 and “The Limey” in 1999. But it’s yet another instantly immersive, richly layered and beautifully shot chapter in one of the most impressive directing careers of our time.
Set in 1950s Detroit (and filmed on location in the city), “No Sudden Move” might have your head spinning at times as the plot weaves this way and that, incorporating small-time criminals and a big-time corporate cover-up and not always subtle commentary on the racial politics of the time into the story, but director Soderbergh and the veteran scribe Ed Solomon (“Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Men in Black”) do a remarkable job of tying the loose ends together in a plausible and satisfying manner. This is the kind of film you might appreciate even more upon a second viewing.
Hang on, here we go. Don Cheadle gives a beautifully nuanced performance as Curt Goynes, a world-weary career criminal who’s just been released from prison and is looking to better his standing in the world. A beefed-up and menacing-looking Brendan Fraser is Jones, who hires Curt and two other guys, Ronald (Benicio del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin) for a seemingly straightforward job: they’ll break into the home of Matt (David Harbour), an accountant for GM, and hold his wife and children hostage while Charley takes Matt to the office so Matt can retrieve a valuable document they might as well have called “The MacGuffin File.” (Distinct echoes of William Wyler’s 1955 classic “The Desperate Hours” can be felt at this point.) What could possibly go wrong?
The job starts to go sideways almost from the start. Ronald is a scummy backstabber and double-crosser who makes it clear he doesn’t like working with a Black man. Charley is trigger-happy and might have a separate agenda of his own — and when Matt opens the safe at the office, the document isn’t there. Was the job a setup of some kind from the get-go? Things get even messier when a murder takes place, which is the cue for Jon Hamm’s ethically wobbly Det. Joe Finney to show up, and wow has Jon Hamm played a lot of law enforcement types and played them well, from “The Town” to “Bad Times at the El Royale” to “Richard Jewell.”
With Soderbergh often employing Dutch angles and using older cameras and lenses befitting the time period, “No Sudden Move” plunges into the gritty underworld of Detroit, as the search for that document widens to include a fantastically compelling group of characters including Ray Liotta’s crime boss, Frank Capelli, whose wife (Julia Fox from “Uncut Gems”) is sleeping with Ronald; a top-level Black crime kingpin named Aldrick Watkins (the great Bill Duke), whose code book detailing 10 years of names, dates and crimes has also gone missing; and a certain Soderbergh regular who makes a late cameo and kills it as a GM executive who explains exactly what this chase has been really about. In testosterone-fueled noir films such as this, the wife/girlfriend/secretary roles are often paper-thin, but Julia Fox, Tina Gloss, Frankie Shaw and in particular Amy Seimetz as the wife of the GM accountant Matt — all have a chance to shine and flesh out their characters, and all come through in smashingly good fashion.
“No Sudden Move” is about a relatively small criminal endeavor that keeps getting bigger and bigger, but it’s also about the Detroit of 1954, when the Big Three automobile manufacturers were thriving as was the city itself, but racial polarization was increasing and the divide between the haves and the have-nots was quickly accelerating. It is a distinctly American film, written and directed by one of the great American directors and featuring maybe the best cast of any film so far this year.