At the Movies with Alan Gekko: No Sudden Move “2021”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: No Sudden Move “2021”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Crime Thriller/Stars: Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Brendan Fraser, Kieran Culkin, Noah Jupe, Craig muMs Grant, Julia Fox, Frankie Shaw, Bill Duke, Tom Ripley/Runtime: 115 minutes

I think it’s safe to say dear reader that, when you really stop to think about it, some directors have an affinity for certain kinds of material that can usually result in something truly special being created whenever they dabble in that specific cinematic realm. Perhaps this is why Spielberg is so great at historical dramas, Scorsese is a delight in the realm of gangsters/mobsters, Mel Brooks is a comedic maestro, Terrence Malick is just a surreal individual, John Carpenter is a horror Hall of Famer, and of course iconic film helmer Steven Soderbergh is just a master at making whatever the heck he wants. Yet even though the legendary director of such gems as Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Solaris, The Good German, Contagion, and 2 of the entries in the Magic Mike trilogy among other films in one of the more diverse filmographies I have ever seen has long showcased a talent for giving studio filmmaking a proverbial kick up the backside and then some, there is one genre that has made its presence known quite frequently. That of course being the genre known as the crime genre. Indeed from the stylish work done on the first 3 Ocean’s movies we got in 2001, 2004, and 2007 respectively, 2017’s Logan Lucky, 1998’s Out of Sight, 1999’s The Limey, and even 2009’s The Informant there is no denying that Soderbergh has a flair for the criminal element that a lot of his fellow directors simply either do not possess or don’t wish to utilize as often as he chooses to. The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because the slice of cinema of his that I am reviewing for you today, 2021’s No Sudden Move, is yet another wonderful example of Soderbergh’s skill in this particular cinematic arena. To be sure, this crime caper is most assuredly by no means the best work I have seen from either its distinct helmer or the respective genre of which it is a part. Even so however, that still doesn’t take away from the fact that this is still, by and large, a crime saga that manages to be a fairly well-done blend of extremely engaging and thrilling in equal measure to say nothing of one that will leave you guessing up until the very end like the best of them. Suffice it to say then that it might not be perfect in terms of the work done behind the camera to say nothing of the fact that some of the actors in the undeniably impressive and talented cast of players in front of the camera might not get nearly as much in the way of material to work with as they deserve, but by and large No Sudden Move is still an taut, riveting, and honestly just plain cool little crime saga that, if you are willing to give it a chance to work its magic on you, is more than capable of being one that I have no doubt you will be willing to check out time and time again.

The plot is as follows: Taking us to the distinct locale of Detroit, Michigan in the long-ago year of 1954, No Sudden Move gets its twisty narrative underway as we are introduced to a member of that distinct community known as the criminal underworld by the name of Curt “Curtis” Goynes. A criminal who is perhaps distinct amongst his peers in that here is a guy, through events told yet never showed to us, has managed to rub the wrong way every single employer he has had the privilege of working for. As a result, this is a man who is all but forced to take whatever work he can find whilst also keeping one eye out for the multitude of people who surely want him dead. It is because of that desperation incidentally that we soon see ol’ Curt is approached to take on, what appears for all intents and purposes to be, a seemingly simple assignment from a more than slightly shifty individual calling himself Jones who operates as a sort of middleman for…a mysterious and unknown third party. An assignment that consists of no more or less than babysitting duties for three hours and for which our intrepid criminal, fresh out of prison and wanting to make a new life for himself in Kansas City, will be paid the sum of 5 thousand dollars. Agreeing to the assignment, we soon witness as Curt is paired with two other criminals in the forms of a constantly on-edge and restless type named Ronald Russo as well as an eager-beaver and more than slightly gung-ho type calling himself Charley. It is also around this time where we, along with our trio, learn more about the job that they are to take part in. It seems that they are to forcefully make their way into the home of a guy by the name of Matt Wertz and, whilst Curt and Ron stay at the house and watch over his family, Charley is to take Matt to his office to find and bring back some top-secret intel from a safe belonging to his boss. Sounds like it should be a walk in the park right? Wrong. In fact, as you may have already been able to put together, this is one story where rarely if ever will anything go according to plan. Something that definitely soon makes itself apparent when not only are the documents nowhere to be found, but someone is shot and dispatched of, and soon criminals start seemingly coming from every which way to get a piece of this “simple score”. As a result, and seeing that they have been set up, we soon see as Curt and Ron decide to form a tenuous partnership in order to not only find the documents, but determine who wants them so badly and in the process get as much money as they possibly can for them. A choice that, given the amount of people operating in both legal and illegal circles to get their hands on them no matter what the cost, might not exactly be the best policy here. As a result we see that what was supposed to be a simple assignment is now about to turn into a game of sorts. One where double-crosses are par for the course, twists are to be expected, and trust (as will quickly become apparent) is perhaps the rarest commodity of them all….

Now right off, it should be said that the work done behind the camera is fairly solid all things considered. Indeed, much like with some of his other cinematic crime sagas, this slice of cinema once again showcases its director’s fondness for rounding up a collection of shifty individuals and then putting their proverbial backs up against the wall and challenging them to find a way out. More than some of those others however, there is no denying that with this film, Soderbergh actually does a phenomenal job of making a period-authentic slice of cinema that, taking place against the backdrop of the growing racial divide in 1950s Detroit, is able to showcase for audiences both the idealized fantasy as well as the sleazy and highly unscrupulous actuality of this distinct era where African-American neighborhoods were being shown the door and the doggedly despicable auto companies were willing to do just about anything (and then some) to get the edge on their rivals in their respective industry in equal measure. One of the key avenues that helps to achieve this is, through operating as his own cinematographer as well as editor via the magic of a pseudonym, we as movie goers are able to see that Soderbergh is able to brilliantly recreate for us how a crime thriller from that era would look. Perhaps the most significant manner in which he does this is through the utilization of overly generous wide-angled camerawork that seems to enjoy conjuring up a bit of distortion on both sides of the screen. As a result we see that, by and large, the end result is meant to ensure that the camera is able to immerse us in the world of the film as much as possible rather than distract in any significant manner. Now I know that the color scheme and the locale seem either low-key or continually cloudy, but honestly this was done to help in positively reinforcing the incredibly detailed work done by both the production design and costuming departments respectively rather than act as a detriment toward the quality of the film in any way. Yes when you merge it all together with the truly dazzling work from the lighting department, this is one slice of cinema that is able to operate as a genuinely magical hybrid of something that is equal parts fashionable present day as well as a film that looks and feels like one from a previous period of time in movie magic. Yet it’s not until you insert the truly jaunty musical accompaniment from the incredible David Holmes and don’t be surprised if you suddenly start to feel less like you are watching a film and more like you have actually gone back in time to the era the film is set in. We as movie goers are also treated to a brilliantly penned script from scribe Ed Solomon (as in the same Ed Solomon responsible for the Bill and Ted movies plus 1993’s Super Mario Bros and the first Men in Black from 1997 respectively). Thankfully this slice of cinema is less 1993 Mario and more Men in Black in terms of quality as we see that Solomon’s work on the script completely and wholeheartedly lovingly embrace the idea that there truly is no loyalty to be found amongst the criminal element. An embrace it is proud to show off courtesy of an overwhelming amount of back-stabbing, double and triple crosses, a collection of deceptive tricks of the finest order, and even a highly convoluted narrative all whilst permitting the characters to both traverse the narrative their own way and make their own choices be they good or bad. Suffice it to say that it’s clear that the work done behind the camera is definitely as on-point as ever for a Soderbergh film and is as much a treat for you, the viewer as the work done in front of the camera.

Speaking of, I think now is a great time to tell you dear reader that it also doesn’t hurt the overall quality of the film in the least that the rogues’ gallery of talent assembled in front of the camera all give top-tier performances. With that said however, it should also be noted that the majority of the performers in this really aren’t given nearly as much screentime as they ought to have been given to really bring much in the way of dimension to their respective characters. Even with that in mind though, there is no denying that everyone involved here does bring their respective A-game to this slice of cinema. This starts with the always engaging Don Cheadle who is a brilliant mix of understated and constantly scheming in the role of Curt Goynes. Indeed here is a guy who is seemingly consistently on edge and trying to locate either an angle or a way to outhustle everyone else and will continue to try and do so no matter how in deep he is with the wrong people. Suffice it to say it feels like a reprisal of sorts of his character Mouse from 1995’s Devil in a Blue Dress and Cheadle just takes it and runs it for all that it’s worth and then some. Synching up perfectly with the work done here by Cheadle is the performance given by del Toro as Ronald. Indeed whereas Goynes is more on edge and constantly scheming, del Toro does a terrific job of making Ronald a lot more lackadaisical and mellow even whilst providing him with an aura of suspicion toward everyone and everything that we only get hints of every so often as the movie goes along. Alongside the work done by Cheadle and del Toro, the movie also provides with a delightful against type performance for none other than David Harbour as the criminals’ initial mark Matt Wertz. Indeed whereas most characters Harbour has played are usually rough around the edges types, the character of Wertz is most assuredly not one of those guys. Rather, this is a guy who is very much a meek and more than slightly dweeby individual who is suddenly being thrust into this shifty world and pushed to do things that he doesn’t want to, but knows that he must if he wants his family to see another day.  This film also provides us with a chance to once again see the Brendan Fraser Comeback Express in full swing as, in the role of middleman Doug Jones, Fraser does a fantastic job at giving us a shifty and sleazy to the hilt individual who also has no qualms about getting more than slightly testy when his buttons are pushed or things don’t go according to plan. Finally, this slice of cinema also gives us a terrific performance from Julia Fox as mobster trophy wife Vanessa Capelli. Indeed Fox does a wonderful job at playing someone who, despite flirting in and out of the film quite a bit, actually has more of a fairly significant role to play in the proceedings than you might initially be suspecting.  Suffice it to say that when you also factor in wonderful efforts from such talents as Jon Hamm, Kiernan Culkin as the third member of the job’s required trio, Noah Jupe, Amy Seimetz, Frankie Shaw, a pair of delightful 11th hour efforts from the late yet great Ray Liotta as well as underrated character actor Bill Duke, and a wonderfully sleazy surprise appearance from an actor who I won’t spoil here among others it’s clear that, void of solid screentime aside, this is one cast that all make an impression with the work they do here no matter how big or small their amount of screentime may be.

All in all and at the end of the day is No Sudden Move a perfect and flawless slice of crime cinema by any stretch of the imagination? Nope. For that matter, is it also the best of the best when it comes to its helmer’s respective filmography? Not even close. With those out of the way however, is this the worst entry in Soderbergh’s filmography since whatever in the heck that 2005 slice of cinema he made called Bubble was supposed to be. Thankfully, I can most assuredly say that is definitely not the case which is good because that movie was just straight up weird dear reader. Like Val Kilmer sawing an amplifier in half with a chainsaw in a Terrence Malick film weird. All sarcastic observations aside however dear reader, there is no denying that this slice of cinema is an intriguing and fairly riveting little movie. To be sure, there are members of the stacked cast in front of the camera who aren’t given nearly as much to work with as actors of their skill and caliber deserve thus making me wonder (or at the very least hope for the existence of) if maybe there’s an extended cut of this film somewhere out there that gives these talents a heck of a lot more to do than in this version of the finished product. Even so however, the acting on display here is top-tier, and the work done behind the camera most assuredly does a magnificent job at bringing us into the time and place the film is set in whilst also allowing us to enjoy a fairly twisty (if not more than slightly convoluted for its own good) mystery. Suffice it to say that in many respects No Sudden Move is more than just another winning entry in its iconic helmer’s filmography that also does a terrific job at blending together his preferences for sneaky criminal activity, a wry sense of humor, and a more than slightly scathing critical eye. Rather, it also operates as a terrific reminder how when it comes to laying a serious smackdown of a specific industry or system be it the despicable auto industry back in the 1950s, the gaming industry, the war on drugs, big pharma, medical emergency preparedness, or even (I kid you not) a dastardly scheme to engage in some seriously underhanded agricultural price-fixing there are few, if any, who do it better than Steven Soderbergh and the truth is we as movie goers wouldn’t have it any other way. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give No Sudden Move a solid 3.5 out of 5.