No Sudden Move is a sharp, gritty crime thriller from Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh’s latest brings together an all-star cast for a claustrophobic heist movie set in 1950s Detroit.

Benicio del Toro in No Sudden Move (2021)
Benicio del Toro in No Sudden Move (2021)Courtesy of Warner Bros

No Sudden Move is available to stream on Apple TV and other platforms now.  

No new or sudden move indeed for Steven Soderbergh, back again in his favoured genre of crimes-gone-sideways with a crack troupe of repeat collaborators. Which isn’t to say this project’s grittier, 1950s B-movie noir aspects overlap too much with the slick showboating of his Ocean’s trilogy or more personable heists of Out of Sight or Logan Lucky.

Ed Solomon’s taut script for No Sudden Move drops us into an apparently small-scale job. Two low-level foot soldiers, Don Cheadle’s wily, raspy-voiced Curt Goynes and Benicio Del Toro’s wary, sleepy-eyed Ronald Russo, are hired to “babysit” the family of businessman Matt Wertz (David Harbour). A third gunman Charly (Kieran Culkin) accompanies Wertz to obtain an important document from his workplace. Naturally, things go awry. A cop (Jon Hamm) starts probing the family’s unlikely cover-up story. Crime bosses higher up the food chain (Bill Duke, Ray Liotta), with prior vested interests in Curt and Ronald, get involved. And the bodies steadily pile up.

All the while the charismatic performances, Soderbergh’s sharp, imaginative compositions and sinuous editing (credited to his usual non de plumes Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard) and David Holmes’ deftly retro score keep the claustrophobic action simmering along. It’s a style reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, or William Wyler’s home invasion thriller The Desperate Hours. Only gradually do the multi-strand, spiralling twists and double crosses spin out into something wider, more complex, more grounded in history.

Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro in No Sudden Move (2021)
Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro in No Sudden Move (2021)Courtesy of Warner Bros

The film‘s MacGuffin comes in the form of a pollution-reducing tech blueprint stifled by the US automobile industry’s all-too real corporate collusion. Solomon and Soderbergh’s slowburn move here is a systemic state-of-the-nation indictment, akin to something like Traffic’s ‘War on Drugs’ address. Only here, the addiction is that other tried-and-tested American enterprise: ruthless, unfettered capitalism, in which big business, law enforcement, and even gangsters are in cahoots, leaving worker drones and small-time hoods scrabbling for scraps. Soderbergh even gives a certain high-profile actor, here uncredited, a showpiece speech à la Ned Beatty in Network to detail the corrupt CEO-level machinations that enmesh all but the one percent in a rigged system; one even Danny Ocean would struggle to escape.

Not everything coalesces, especially a weirdly tagged-on critique of displaced Black communities. And we’re some way off the director’s emotional and formal peaks of Out of Sight and The Limey. Yet it’s still possible to see Soderbergh as a more successful variation of his cornered protagonists, lithe enough to navigate thoughtful, mid-range, grown-up movies amid increasingly dominant, franchise-led content providers. It’s no clean getaway, but it sure is an antidote to industry toxicity.