Steven Soderbergh continues his prolific directing streak with “No Sudden Move,” a 1950s crime thriller that’s an obvious ode to the movies of that era and a nifty showcase for its sizable cast, topped by Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro. The film premieres on HBO Max, the director’s second title for the streaming service in seven months, following “Let Them All Talk.”
Owing a debt to nostalgia-dipped movies like “Devil in a Blue Dress” and the Coen brothers (the film stylistically resembling the most recent season of “Fargo”), the action unfolds in 1954 Detroit, where Cheadle’s Curt Goynes and Del Toro’s Ronald Russo are thrown together to handle what should be a pretty basic job: holding a family hostage long enough to compel the patriarch (David Harbour) to hand over some precious documents.
The plan not surprisingly goes awry, unleashing a series of twists, crosses and double-crosses, starting with the fact that Goynes and Russo aren’t entirely sure who’s behind the whole scheme, having only been told, not very convincingly, that “some outfit out of Illinois wants to expand to Detroit.”
Burying his usual charm under a cool exterior and gruff, whispered voice, Cheadle establishes Curt as a guy who it’s probably wise not to underestimate, while Ronald is a more loquacious fellow with bad habits, among them seducing the wrong women.
Working from a script by Ed Solomon (of “Bill & Ted” and “Men in Black” renown), Soderbergh – fresh off his Oscar producing stint – enlists a strong array of supporting players, among them Jon Hamm as a fed looking into what’s happening and Ray Liotta, Kieran Culkin, Brendan Fraser and Bill Duke as underworld figures who cross the central pair’s path.
Solomon has crafted a pretty clever device to undergird the story, one that involves the 1950s auto industry, which brings logic to the Detroit setting. At the same time, that plot – after an extremely good, tension-filled start – grows a little too convoluted and border-line confusing down the stretch, especially since it’s structurally an old Hitchcock-ian MacGuffin to set the action in motion.
“No Sudden Move” fares better with the quirky, unpredictable nature of the characters, the impeccable period touches – from the overall look to the music – and disarmingly witty bits of dialogue, such as one tough guy snarling, “You’re not smart enough to know how not smart you are.” There’s also a terrific performance by Amy Seimetz in what could easily have been a throwaway role.
That said, the film represents the sort of lightweight offering that possessed scant theatrical prospects even before Covid, making the advent of streaming both a godsend for getting such movies made and a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of their perceived commercial limitations.
“No Sudden Move” is, quite deliberately, a movie the way they used to make ‘em. The fact that it’s confined to HBO Max subscribers serves as a clear demonstration of the way they currently release ‘em.
“No Sudden Move” premieres July 1 on HBO Max, which, like CNN, is a unit of WarnerMedia.