“No Sudden Move” Review

5 mins read

Steven Soderbergh’s most recent crime thriller, “No Sudden Move,” proceeds just like the name would suggest: slowly. The film is shot with a wide-angle lens, the background of Detroit rolling off the edges of the screen distorted and discarded. So it goes with the storyline. Soderbergh leaves out more than he tells, feeding us just enough information at a time to keep us in hungry suspense. But this preoccupation with suspense is ultimately the movie’s downfall. We are kept so much in the dark in nonstop anticipation over the twists and turns of double-crossing mobsters that each development barely registers an emotional reaction.

As soon as the film begins, we know we are watching a period crime drama. The lighting is dark and cool. The music is jazzy and suspenseful, a slow melody with an anxious beat underneath. The opening credits are in bold red block letters with a yellow border and a drop shadow effect: mid-century vintage. We see a man in dark clothes walking towards us in the distance through a vignette border. Shots of black and white photographs take over the screen for a few seconds, presenting the faces of people who will never again make an appearance, just to make absolutely certain we know that the movie is set in the past. We return to the man, following now behind his confident gait and bowler hat, every frame dripping in typified exposition. The man? Don Cheadle.

Cheadle, who plays Detroit gangster Curtis Goynes, is easily the best part of “No Sudden Move.” Goynes, recently out of prison, with a bounty on his head of thousands of dollars offered by two different Detroit mafia bosses, is looking for a new job. He’s hired by a mysterious man along with another criminal, Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro), to steal a document. The two of them end up being double-crossed time and time again, yet they never develop the buddy-buddy bond that the genre expects. Instead, we are kept in constant apprehension, waiting for one to turn on the other. 

On paper, Goynes is only vaguely likable. He stops a family from being killed, but in exchange, he forces the father of the family (David Harbour) to assault an older man to get closer to the mysterious document. Goynes is clever, definitely. But he’s given very little personal story. The closest Soderbergh gives us is a quick pitstop with a possible ex-lover and the mention of some land that was taken from him as the motivation for his unlawful ventures. As far as I can tell, we never learn why he was in prison or why a mob wants him dead. And yet, despite this, Cheadle’s incredible charisma shines through. He is absolutely captivating to watch and impossible not to root for.

Meanwhile, we never know quite how to feel about his partner, Russo, who fills the role of the bumbling idiot. He does have some truly great lines, such as telling a woman he’s imprisoned, “I don’t like doing the dishes either,” and then “What if you don’t want the things you’re supposed to want?” The best moments of the film are the ventures in this direction, in which the men and women of different relationships puzzle out questions of domesticity in the 1950s.

At its core, “No Sudden Move” is a movie about good bad people and bad bad people. Outlaws we sympathize with and mobsters we revile. The ultimate villain, however, ends up being what we might consider bad good people — a businessman technically working within the law. True to form, the film ends with quite a few more twists, both satisfying and unsatisfying, and we are left not sure how to feel, besides a breath of relief that the neverending tension of suspense is over. The movie ends up feeling like a nonstop slew of Chekhov’s guns. Only some go off. 

Photo courtesy of TV Insider.

Rachel Lapides

Rachel Lapides is a sophomore from New York City studying English and Psychology. She loves plants and is slowly turning her dorm room into a garden.

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