If "Ocean's Eleven" were grimier, set in the '50s and shot with fisheye lenses, you'd have something close to "No Sudden Move."
Now streaming on HBO Max, director Steven Soderbergh's latest movie has an excellent cast led by Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro. Though there are a few too many twists, "No Sudden Move" is another fine example of Soderbergh working in his main bag — the heist movie.
The one-time Baton Rouge resident who filmed 1989's Palme d'Or-winning "Sex, Lies and Videotape" around the Capital City, has become the go-to filmmaker for original movies made for adults and on a tight budget. Though he'll be most known for box office hits like the "Ocean's" trilogy and "Magic Mike," and award-winning fare like "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic," he carves out time for smaller B-movies like "No Sudden Move" that are as rich and rewarding.
Here, Soderbergh sets his lens on 1954 Detroit, where the criminal, Curt Goynes (a rail-thin Cheadle), gets a job with Ronald Russo (Del Toro) to babysit a family while Charley (Keiran Culkin) retrieves a document from a safe with the head of the household, Matt Wertz (David Harbour).
The turn comes as the job goes wrong, and Goynes and Russo must figure out who set them up and why. Further complications ensue when the feds, led by Joe Finney (Jon Hamm), and mob boss Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta) get involved. It doesn't help that Russo and Goynes both did Capelli wrong in the past.
Bullets fly, subplots arise, and there's even a bit of heady "capitalism is bad" messaging through it all. Writer Ed Solomon fills each scene with so much set dressing that your head might spin. However, the valleys between the chaos are lined with personal exchanges, revealing characters' true motives.
"No Sudden Move" excels at showing how each of these characters has a stake in the game. Goynes has the most to win or lose, and he's dead-set on getting enough money to reclaim land in Kansas City that was stolen from his family. Russo wants to escape with his lover (Julia Fox), who may have something to do with Liotta's mob boss. Other characters, like Amy Seimetz's housewife Mary Wertz, just want to escape.
In a small moment during the babysitting, Wertz shakes as Russo tops off his coffee with a swig of bourbon from his flask. Russo tries to make idle conversation, and Wertz replies, "I don't want to know anything about you."
"We're more alike than you think," Russo says. "What if you don't want the things you're supposed to want?"
The exchange typifies Soderbergh's entire filmography — people bound by societal roles, but wanting something more. "No Sudden Move" is full of characters who are looking in every direction to make a move. As much as Soderbergh revels in the planning and the twists of the heist, don't be fooled by the décor. His talent remains in displaying the desperation of all the players around the table, trying to win big at this game called life.
'No Sudden Move'
STARRING: Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Brendan Fraser and Jon Hamm
DIRECTED BY: Steven Soderbergh
NOW STREAMING: On HBO Max
RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 55 mins.
MPAA RATING: R (Restricted) Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED R? For language throughout, some violence and sexual references.
**** (Excellent), *** (Good), ** (Fair), * (Poor)