No Sudden Move is another successful crime caper from Soderbergh, as formally and tonally playful as his best efforts in the genre.
The endlessly versatile Steven Soderbergh returns to crime noir with No Sudden Move, a brisk, thoughtful, and sly period-set thriller with a stacked cast, shot through with his trademark formal and narrative economy. Don Cheadle, just to start, plays Curt Goynes, fresh out of prison and looking to make a quick score to buy back some land he says was taken from him. He’s hired by Jones (Brendan Fraser) to babysit a home invasion situation along with Russo (Benicio Del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin), keeping an eye on an executive’s (David Harbour) family while they force him to retrieve a document from his boss’ office. It all goes just fine, as you can imagine.
Curt and Russo are our ostensible protagonists, desperate guys in a tight spot, just smart enough to try to bend the situation to their meager advantage, but beyond being caught up in a web of nefarious gangsters, corrupt cops, and duplicitous wives and girlfriends, they’re also trapped by the universal oppressors of race and class. Ed Solomon’s absolutely incident-packed but completely obfuscatory script is rife with blink-and-miss references to things like “redlining” and “gentrification,” and that’s leaving out the impossible-to-miss late-entering character assayed by an unbilled Soderbergh featured player. Suffice it to say that No Sudden Move, with its extra-textual concerns and out-of-their-league protagonists, plays like a 1950s spin on Shane Black’s The Nice Guys, a shaggy dog noir where losing is probably the only option.
That also ought to indicate just how slyly funny the film is. All this desperation and stupidity can’t help but lead to some bleak comedy. Witness Harbour’s character miserably having to beat up his boss while apologizing through tears, or Julia Fox’s crucial turn as a gangster’s moll who’s all too cannily playing her role. It’s all typical of Soderbergh’s approach, to interrupt the expected either tonally or, as is also the case here, formally. The film’s frames have a severe anamorphic warp to them at the edges, making characters appear to shift in shape and size and objects appear closer or further away, and rendering spaces sort of psychically unnavigable.
It’s in these ways that few directors are as adept at what you might call the caper comedy as Soderbergh, having come off not only the Ocean’s-es, but the delightful Logan Lucky — to say nothing of his more straightforward crime pictures. His films in this mode have a tendency to utilize simple but largely underappreciated techniques, to make strange plot elisions and story curlicues, and to limit exposition to the bare minimum, and No Sudden Move is flush with all of these features. Not even the characters inside this play might be able to clock just what exactly is happening to them, which might be their only available fate.