Over time, crime has evolved to a degree as technology has become more sophisticated and the knowledge necessary to get away with an act has become more challenging. But the general aim remains the same, which is usually to acquire something of value without purchasing it and then use it to attain money or some other worthwhile prize. A plan concocted to pull off a simple job may not actually be that complicated, but as anyone who has ever told, read, or watched an interesting story knows, it’s rare that things go off without a hitch and that no unforeseen obstacles present themselves. That’s the premise of No Sudden Move, director Steven Soderbergh’s foray into the past that doesn’t cover much new ground.
In 1955 Detroit, three men – Curt (Don Cheadle), Ronald (Benicio Del Toro), and Charley (Kieran Culkin) – are brought together by the mysterious Jones (Brendan Fraser) for what’s described as a babysitting job. Curt and Ronald must watch Mary (Amy Seimetz) and her two children as her husband Matt (David Harbour) goes with Charley to retrieve a folder from his office belonging to his boss. As Curt and Ronald wait, they realize that all may not be as they thought it was, setting into motion a course of events that bring a federal agent (Jon Hamm), mob boss (Ray Liotta), and powerful executive (Matt Damon) into the picture.
This film establishes a moody feel from its first moments that follow Curt walking along deserted streets, zooming in on its character focus. Soderbergh has actors he likes to work with, and Cheadle, Del Toro, and Damon are among them. This cast, which also includes Noah Jupe, Frankie Shaw, Julia Fox, and Bill Duke, is certainly outstanding, but not all of their roles feel fleshed out, as if there could have been much grander and more intriguing stories to tell if they had more screen time. Some appearances feel all too fleeting, and some talent is distinctly underused. Seimetz in particular could have been the star of her own film, as could Shaw. It’s a tease to see them shine in small roles and then find little in terms of payoff for their character arcs.
Like other mob-adjacent movies, this film features a large ensemble of players, one that helps to keep the narrative flowing but also feels overstuffed. Curt and Ronald are caught in a bigger web than they realize, yet there isn’t anything all that extraordinary about their situation. In part because of Del Toro’s participation and in part because of its premise, this film may remind audiences of The Usual Suspects, another tale of criminals united by an unknown figure for a job that goes awry, but there’s no comparison between the two. Style is far superior to substance here, and the story feels disappointingly ordinary.
This film, like Motherless Brooklyn or The Irishman recently, goes to great lengths to establish its period setting and does so formidably with its costumes, cinematography, and production design, but the plot contained within that just isn’t all that original or riveting. Its title is indicative of stirring suspense or tense drama, but neither is found in a film that’s perfectly adequate in many respects and simultaneously never reaches the auspicious expectations set up by its cast and director.
No Sudden Move is streaming exclusively on HBO Max.