Producer: Casey Silver Director: Steven Soderbergh Screenplay: Ed Solomon Cast: Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Craig mMs Grant, Julia Fox, Frankie Shaw, Bill Duke, Lucy Holt, Wallace Bridges, Lauren LaStrada, Hugh Maguire and Tina Gloss Distributor: Warner Bros./HBO Max
Steven Soderbergh has always shown an affinity for heist stories—think not only of the “Ocean’s” pictures but of “The Underneath,” “Out of Sight” and “Logan Lucky”—and an aptitude for bringing them off cunningly. His streak continues with this 1950s period piece, a Detroit-set puzzler that starts with a home invasion and branches out into a tale of personal infidelity and corruption, both corporate and political, that seems to permeate every nook and cranny of society.
The film begins with two low-grade mob figures—both in trouble with the bosses for various reasons—being recruited by beefy Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) for what he describes as an easy three-hour job. Along with Charley (Kieran Culkin), Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) and Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro) are hired to break into the home of Matt Wertz (David Harbour), a mid-level executive at an auto company, and hold his family—wife (Amy Seimetz), son Matthew Jr. (Noah Jupe) and daughter Peggy (Lucy Holt)—prisoner while Charley forces Wertz to extract a document from the safe of his boss Mel Forbert (Hugh Maguire)—the intricate plot’s MacGuffin (or one of them).
Unfortunately, Wertz learns from Forbert’s secretary Paula (Frankie Shaw)—with whom he’s having an affair—that Mel has taken the document home, and so he tries to palm off a worthless one in its place. That doesn’t really matter, as Charley’s been instructed to kill his associates as well as the Wertz family; but he’s the one who winds up dead, and Curt and Ronald compel Wertz to get the real document from Forbert so they can profit from it—a scheme that will involve their two mob bosses, white Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta) and black Aldrick Watkins (Bill Duke). Further plot complications then arise: Watkins is anxious to recover a missing ledger that reveals his enterprises, while Capelli is suspicious that his wife Vanessa (Julia Fox) is fooling around behind his back.
Adding another thread to the plot is Jon Hamm’s Joe Finney, a detective sent to investigate Charley’s death, which the Wertzes try to explain away as a simple break-in. Finney doesn’t buy their story, of course, and works on young Matthew, who’s angry with his father’s treatment of Mary, to spill the beans.
What follows is a cascade of crosses, double-, triple- and other multiples, that Ed Solomon’s screenplay lays out with admirable clarity and peppers with plenty of cheeky one-liners and amusing bits of physical business (a memorable one features Tina Gloss’s treatment as Mrs. Forbert), as well as moments of genuine menace (as when Curt confronts his treacherous pal Jimmy, played by the late Craig mMs Grant) while Curt and Ronald, with the former leading the way, work up the food chain of corruption to the very top. There one of Soderbergh’s virtual repertory company suddenly shows up, unbilled, to deliver a bravura topper that just might remind you of the late Ned Beatty’s famous monologue from “Network.”
There are also occasional poignant interludes along the way, many centered on Del Toro’s hangdog Russo, one of those perpetual losers so common to traditional noir. But Cheadle also gets a touching sequence when he visits his former girlfriend Clarisse (Lauren LaStrada).
In the end “No Sudden Move” reveals a Motor City-centered corporate scandal, but uses it as pretty much a throwaway, something that drives the plot but is never confronted with the seriousness some will feel it merits. But while that’s true, the film can certainly be enjoyed for what it is—a lovingly constructed, intellectually satisfying twister.
And it’s beautifully mounted. Soderbergh (under the pseudonym Peter Andrews) acts, as usual, as cinematographer, and (as Mary Ann Bernard) as editor, and does impeccable work in both capacities. The look of the film is enhanced by the gorgeous period detail in Hannah Beachler’s production design and Marci Rodgers’ costumes, complemented by David Holmes’s score and the jazzy items added to it.
The acting is so committed across the board that it’s hard to single out individuals for special recognition, but Cheadle and Del Toro anchor the proceedings, investing dynamic Curt and sad-sack Ronald with desperation and pathos. Among the others Duke and Jupe are especially memorable.
Both dark and darkly humorous, Soderbergh’s crime saga takes only halfhearted, glancing blows at the deep issues it touches on, but at a purely surface level it’s enormously entertaining.