Although the same could be said about a number of people, there is simply no filmmaker working today like Steven Soderbergh. He has released five movies in the past four years — including one just seven months ago — and not one of them bears any resemblance to the others. He has a unique ability to switch among genres, tones, and types of actors, and still deliver a result that is identifiably his own.
His latest film is the HBO Max original No Sudden Move, a crime movie that falls somewhere between his own Out of Sight and the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. In Detroit in 1954, three seemingly small-time crooks — Curt (Don Cheadle), Ronald (Benicio Del Toro), and Charley (Kieran Culkin) — are recruited to do what’s supposed to be a simple heist. Naturally, things don’t go exactly as planned, and the bulk of the film is spent trying to clean up the mess, with double-crosses abounding.
And with the killer cast that the film boasts, you never know from where the next bit of duplicity is coming. David Harbour plays an accountant for one of the big three automakers, who’s having an affair with his boss’ secretary. Brendan Fraser plays an intermediary for a crime syndicate. Jon Hamm plays a police officer who may or may not be on the level. Ray Liotta plays a criminal nobody seems to want to work with. Bill Duke plays the leader of another crime syndicate. And a surprise big-name cameo in the film’s third act brings the whole thing together in a fantastic way.
Soderbergh, working from a script by Ed Solomon, has a knack for trying wonky things and making them work. For most of the film, he utilizes a fish-eye lens that distorts the edges of the frame while keeping the center in sharp focus. It’s an unusual technique and there’s no doubt that the effect can be distracting at times. However, the majority of the time it serves its purpose of directing the audience’s attention wherever Soderbergh wants it.
While the story starts off relatively straightforward, it quickly gets complicated, with the various characters creating multiple side plots. The particulars can be difficult to follow, especially when the story tangentially brings up mid-century ideas like automaker collusion and systemic racism. The film is not quite as fun as some of Soderbergh’s other movies, but the personalities of the characters give it some needed lightness.
And those characters get those personalities from the immense talents of all of the performers. Cheadle, ostensibly the lead of the film, plays a character who seems to be older than he is, and he uses a voice and demeanor that shows what a versatile actor he is. The previously mentioned supporting actors and others, including Amy Seimetz, Julia Fox, and Noah Jupe, all deliver standout performances, making it an actors showcase no matter which way you turn.
No Sudden Move is the latest example of Steven Soderbergh figuring out how to work the system for his maximum benefit. Whether his films appear in theaters, on Netflix, or now on HBO Max, the director works fast and efficiently, knowing how to get the most out of his band of actors.
No Sudden Move is now streaming on HBO Max.