“No Sudden Move” could’ve been THE movie of the summer, had screenwriter Ed “Men in Black” Solomon figured out an exit strategy.
A damned clever neo-noir with a top-drawer cast, genuine suspense, dark humor and a plot that keeps you guessing for a very long time, this Steven Soderbergh thriller has everything a good heist picture needs to get over. The spare, flinty dialogue rings in the ears, the compact performances engage you, the unfussy design and direction stay out of everybody’s way.
“It’s the stuff dreams are made of.” Well, pretty much. Close enough.
Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro and Kieran Culkin are “the usual suspects,” three hard guys hired by a connected guy (Brendan Fraser, sketchy and subtly menacing) to “baby sit” for three hours — for $5,000.
That was a lot of money in 1954 Detroit. So you can bet there’s more to it than baby sitting. They’re to barge in on this accountant (David Harbour at his most impressive) and hold his family hostage while he goes to his office to fetch “a document.” He’ll know which document it is.
As he works at GM, the car-savvy viewer can piece together what that document might detail.
The guy’s frantic, his kids are panicked but his wife (Amy Seimetz) might be more bent than panicked. No, Matt insists he doesn’t have the combination to his boss’s safe. But his captors crack that he’s got “the combination to the secretary,” who does.
Naturally, things don’t go according to plan. The near-strangers have to improvise, scheme, strategize and “trust” each other to reason a way out of it. Because really, everybody in that house is pretty much marked for death.
There’s another “document” that one of the mugs keeps, for insurance sake. All of them have secrets, complications that could make things…complicated. These are guys who know a guy who can help them lay low, bring in muscle as backup, help them piece together a plan B on the fly.
But whatever you do, stay away from Frank. Keep him out of it.
“Everybody has a problem with Frank these days,” one guy admits. “I know why Frank wants ME dead,” another offers. What about you?
Frank is played by Ray Liotta, which is all the explanation any viewer needs.
The dialogue just drips with bourbon and betrayal and gangland savvy. Why’s Mom (Seimetz) so calm, relatively speaking?
“They don’t want to hurt us. That’s why they’re wearing masks.”
Supporting players show up and hit this or that scene out of the park — Jon Hamm is an organized crime cop, the great Bill Duke is…organized crime.
But a line from the first act echoes entirely too loudly in the third.
“Sometimes when people lie, they over-explain.”
Thus it is with this script, which introduces a villain who wants to explain the movie to us (unnecessary), and which then staggers from one anti-climax to another, tidying up more than one needs to tidy up. The “lie” is that it’s not true to the first two acts. The mystery is a big part of the allure of “No Sudden Move,” and Solomon writes through every corner of it, every damned character.
You find yourself wishing this was vaudeville and you held the hook. That’s enough. Leave’em laughing, begging for more, thinking over what they’ve seen. Dude doesn’t know when to drop the mike.
But so many performers just pop off the screen, so many scenes hang us on tenterhooks, so many lines just land.
“I think you have ulterior motives. But I find that sexy.”
“It’s fine. I’m FINE. Everything’s FINE. It’s fine.”
That’s right. Solomon mimics David Mamet here and there. Pity he didn’t copy the way the master wraps things up. Mamet never blows an exit.
MPA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some violence and sexual references
Cast: Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Julia Fox, David Harbour, Brendan Fraser, Frankie Shaw and Ray Liotta
Credits: Directed by Steven Soderbergh, scripted by Ed Solomon. An HBO Max release.
Running time: 1:53