No Sudden Move (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): A solid twisty crime noir by Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh’s new film “No Sudden Move” is a dry but twisty crime noir film to be savored and appreciated for a number of good reasons. While its plot is surely as amusingly convoluted as you can expect from its genre territory, the movie also skillfully handles it with considerable mood and efficiency, and it keeps us engaged from the beginning to the end even though we often struggle to grasp its complicated big picture.

The opening scene, which is intercut with a series of old photographs, sets the tone of the movie, which is set in Detroit, 1954. As David Holmes’ cheerful score is played on the soundtrack, we are introduced to an African American ex-con named Curt Goynes (Don Chaedle), and we soon see him being recruited for a shady blackmail job by a guy named Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser). All Goynes needs to do is going to the suburban house of some company accountant along with other two guys and then holding that accountant’s family in hostage for a while, and Goynes agrees to do that mainly because he really needs some cash for leaving the city as soon as he can.

At first, his job looks like an easy task to be done within several hours. Shortly after meeting his two accomplices, Ronald (Benicio del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin), Goynes and these two criminals enter the accountant’s residence and hold the accountant’s family at gunpoint without much difficulty. Although he is quite baffled by what is happening to him and his family right now, Matt Wertz (David Harbour) complies with the gangs’ demand anyway, and he subsequently leaves the house along with Charley for getting something important which has been incidentally stored in his workplace.

Of course, as many of you have already expected, the circumstance soon becomes a lot more complicated than Goynes and his accomplices expected. I will not reveal more to you here, but I can tell you instead that Goynes finds himself not only sandwiched between two certain powerful criminal figures in the town but also pursued by Detective Joe Finney (Jon Hamm), who instantly senses something fishy right from when he enters the picture later.

Despite his increasingly perilous circumstance, Goynes decides to take more risk as being determined to get to the bottom of the situation. While he and Roland, who also inadvertently gets himself involved more with Goynes, attempt to find out who is really behind everything, the screenplay by Ed Solomon accordingly throws more plot elements into the story. For instance, Wertz turns out to have a pretty messy private matter behind his clean-cut appearance, and, as he keeps trying to get things under control, that puts more strain on his relationship with his wife Mary (Amy Seimetz), who has apparently known what her husband has been hiding behind his back.

In the meantime, that important object in question is gradually revealed to be much more than a mere MacGuffin, and we consequently come to regard the story from a wider perspective while also reflecting more on the importance of its period background. Around the narrative point where Goynes and Roland finally confront the figure at the top of their complex situation, the movie becomes a little preachy, but Solomon’s screenplay does not lose any of its edgy wit and humor at least, and it surely has several nice surprises to be unfolded as arriving at its neat ending.

As usual, Soderbergh serves as the unofficial cinematographer/editor of the film, and his distinctively lean and efficient handling of mood, story, and characters keeps things rolling even when we are confused as much as some of the main characters in the film. Although the production budget of the film was only around 8 million dollars, the movie is decorated with enough period mood, and Soderbergh also makes an interesting visual choice via fisheye lens, which feels a bit too distracting to our eyes at first but somehow works as a part of the style of the film.

The movie is packed with various performers having each own fun with their respective characters, most of whom are broad but vivid characters to remember. As the main center of the film, Don Cheadle ably holds the ground with his calm but intense performance, which incidentally makes a good contrast to his volatile breakthrough turn in Carl Franklin’s overlooked crime noir film “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995). As his accidental accomplice who is not that clever in comparison, Benicio del Toro gives a laconic deadpan performance to complement Cheadle’s, and Brendan Fraser, Ray Liotta, Kieran Culkin, and Bill Duke are also solid as several other substantial criminal figures in the story. In case of the other notable cast members in the film, David Harbour, who has steadily impressed us since his Emmy-nominated supporting turn in Netflix series “Stranger Things”, is terrific as a pathetic man stuck in the situation way over his head, and Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Julia Fox, and Noah Jupe did a good job of filing their small supporting parts with some life and personality.

Although he announced his retirement around the time when “Side Effects” (2013) and “Behind the Candelabra” (2013) came out, Soderbergh returned a few years later with “Logan Lucky” (2017), and he has diligently worked since then as cranking out a series of enjoyable films including Netflix film “High Flying Bird” (2019). “No Sudden Move” is certainly another nice work from him, and you should check it out if you admire his recent productive period as much as I did.

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