At first glance, Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move feels of a fast, fizzy pace with the director’s previous heist movies. As in 1998’s Out of Sight, the Ocean’s trilogy, and 2017’s Logan Lucky, a disparate group collaborates to commit a crime, with gleeful twists and turns along the way. But while there’s a caper at the center here, Soderbergh slows down and sneaks in even more serious themes about capitalism and housing inequality under the guise of a genre film. There’s still fun to be had — thanks to Ed Solomon’s clever script and sharply drawn characters portrayed by a starry cast — but No Sudden Move has a grim undercurrent running just beneath its stylish surface.
Soderbergh returns to Out of Sight’s Detroit for this crime film, but this time, he sets the action decades earlier in the Midwestern city, in 1954. A seemingly simple job organized by Jones (Brendan Fraser) brings together three criminals, but it certainly doesn’t unite them. Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) and Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro) are assigned with watching the Wertz family (Amy Seimetz, Noah Jupe, and Lucy Holt), while Charley (Kieran Culkin) escorts their patriarch, Matt (David Harbour), to steal a document from his boss’s safe. Jones gives little information, leaving Curt and Russo scrambling as the opaque plan begins to unravel.
Solomon’s screenplay is dense with plot, filled with infidelities, mob connections, double-crosses, and enough significant characters to populate a jury box plus alternates. In their second collaboration after the TV series Mosaic, the director and writer take clear pleasure in elaborate plotting. Like Soderbergh’s previous films in the genre, it necessitates multiple viewings, with layer upon layer of details that might get lost after watching it just once — you’ve got to make that HBO Max subscription worth it, right? However, even if you don’t catch everything the first time, No Sudden Move is still on par with Soderbergh’s best work in the last decade. Every detail seems appropriate to its historical and geographical setting, but the film refrains from being showy or reveling in nostalgia. Wide-angle lenses capture the action, with Dutch tilts serving as both a nod to the time and as part of Soderbergh’s usual technique as cinematographer (credited, as always, as Peter Andrews).
The MacGuffin at the heart of the movie — that mysterious document in the boss’s safe — at first appears as immaterial as it would be in a similar genre film, with a character even asking, “What fucking difference does it make?” in reference to what seems like a just a sheaf of papers. However, the document is significant here, playing into the movie’s larger commentary on organized crime, capitalism, and those the system intentionally leaves behind. Quick references to redlining and the bulldozing of Black neighborhoods almost seem like throwaways, but their significance to the plot and to the lives of characters like Cheadle’s Curt is clear. It’s in line with the approach in Soderbergh’s criminally underseen High Flying Bird, a sneakily heist-like sports film with a lot more on its mind than just a score.
Cheadle plays in a different register in No Sudden Move than he generally works in, literally lowering his voice and almost matching the deep thrum of the bass in David Holmes’ jazzy score, and it’s a blast to see this familiar actor doing something that feels new. Del Toro’s Russo and Culkin’s Charlie feel like less of a stretch for the actors, but I’m not complaining about seeing these two talents right in their respective wheelhouses. The rest of the cast — particularly jittery housewife Seimetz, as well as Fraser, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, Julia Fox, and Bill Duke — feel perfectly suited for their roles, while still offering a jolt of delight at their every appearance.
While No Sudden Move isn’t as light as the usual Soderbergh heist film, its narrative and thematic complexity reward the audience for their efforts in untangling its packed plot. This movie intentionally doesn’t offer the pure dopamine hit of Ocean’s Eleven, but Soderbergh’s ability to play so broadly within a single genre is just as thrilling.
“No Sudden Move” streams Thursday on HBO Max.