A simple job turns into a corporate espionage case for two goons.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, and David Harbour
Review by Jon Kissel
Goynes begins No Sudden Move as an unwelcome interloper, fresh out of jail and persona non grata amongst those he used to run with. Recruited for an ostensibly simple job alongside Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro), he’s only asked to babysit a family while dad Matt Wertz (David Harbour) is taken to his office at GM to retrieve a document. When the document is missing and Wertz does a bad job faking it, Goynes stops the family from being executed by killing the would-be executioner (Kieran Culkin). Bonded by necessity but not by trust to Russo, Goynes sees that the only way out of this is to retrieve and sell the document themselves. Thieves being fundamentally stupid, as Elmore Leonard would say, Russo and Goynes make their own lives more difficult by being reckless in Russo’s case, by being greedy in Goynes’ case, and by being quick to double-cross the other when working in sync might’ve improved their chances of success. What saves Goynes from being a straight anti-hero is his constant refrain of having land stolen from him and his need to get it back, a dilemma that rhymes with a backdrop of ‘urban renewal’ that is relocating a thriving Black Detroit population in the flimsy name of progress.
That backdrop of burgeoning postwar development and buyouts and discriminatory lending is fascinating but mostly out of place in No Sudden Move, a film with circuitous plotting that has too many ideas and not enough focus. I credit this as Solomon wondering how long it’s going to be before he’s sent back into the hack studio mines, so he needs to cram all his thoughts about redlining, upper class falseness, and corporate corruption into a single film. Ed Norton’s Motherless Brooklyn got a lot of worthy mileage out of New York racist redevelopment, and I’m always game for anything about the inherent bullshit of manicured neighborhoods and the insular meritocracy that goes with it, but this isn’t it. Just because a tossed-off line is included doesn’t mean a film has anything to say. No Sudden Move spends a good amount of time with the Wertz family long after they’ve served their plot purpose, but there’s only the thinness of a failed marriage and a disillusioned teenage son. Goynes’ housing observations are distinct from the main plot, and could be cut out wholesale at the cost of a slight hardening of his character. No Sudden Move’s scattershot approach to theme means it doesn’t hit hard on much of anything.
This amiable if thin heist film does have enough to recommend it, even if it’s not up to Soderbergh’s usual standard. This is primarily thanks to the talent that a person like Soderbergh can draw. Cheadle and Del Toro make a great team, with the latter’s eccentricity complementing the former’s frustration. Matt Damon’s late cameo as the mastermind is a fun surprise for an actor who does a lot of these kinds of roles, and his embodiment of a man too powerful to care but anal enough to want to debrief with the men who are robbing him is very much how I imagine certain master-of-the-universe types. Sympathetic actor of the moment Brendan Fraser is a welcome presence as a mob heavy, as is the imperious Bill Duke, capable of making a man walk away from $125k with a look. Harbour’s sweaty fecklessness is a good look for him, and Julia Fox continues to be a compelling presence as the underestimated partner to bad men. No Sudden Move provides no shortage of actors who can elevate the script.
No Sudden Move’s evocative setting, deep cast, and solid central plot add up to a quietly competent film that had the potential to be more than that. I usually go hard for Soderbergh, especially in his current period of hypercompetence and class anxiety, but this qualifies as minor. By all means, assemble a master filmmaker and a stellar cast and let them go, but this doesn’t have the punch that all that talent should result in. I can’t help but think the guy responsible for Dennis Hopper as King Koopa is somehow to blame. B-