blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

No Sudden Move (2021, Steven Soderbergh)

I spent most of No Sudden Move hoping against hope it’d somehow end well. Unfortunately, by the end of Move, I’d forgotten it started as a potential pulpy franchise for Don Cheadle (twenty-five years after Devil in a Blue Dress maybe he could get the one he deserved). The third act is such a slog, the stunt cameo reveal is so protracted, and the “real world” reveal is so labored, I’d forgotten what the movie was even ostensibly about.

No Sudden Move, if the stylized opening titles, the stylized music, and the stylized visuals (director Soderbergh and cinematographer “Peter Andrews” shoot the entire thing with slight fisheye lens) don’t give it away, is a series of homages to various film noir classics. There are some very obvious homages, then some less obvious ones, then the ones where recycling now familiar homages thanks to other movies using the same homage device. After a very gimmicky and very effective first act MacGuffin, it’s clear there’s not going to be anything new to Move so might as well enjoy the good acting, directing, and nostalgia.

It works until the third act, which goes entirely awry starting with a very bad stunt cameo. At first it seems like the second half is going to be all stunt cameos but when Kevin Scollin turns out not to be Steve Guttenberg, then the single stunt cameo is just… unfortunate. The twists and turns of the third act are all unfortunate as well; Move’s never ambitious—aggressively racist Italian mob flunky Benicio Del Toro abuse of Black man Cheadle ends in their second scene together and while there’s a little more to the female characters than you’d expect in a fifties noir… there’s not much more (and we’re not counting Soderbergh’s fisheye thing as ambitious, he’s just carrying a gag on too long)—but it’s always pretty good. The film finds a decent balance of dangerous and engaging. It’s never quirky, but it’s occasionally wry.

And Cheadle’s great.

Del Toro’s really good too, but the part’s not as good. Then as the film progresses, Cheadle’s part gets worse and Del Toro’s follows suit. David Harbour—playing the suburban dad whose family is in danger from hired guns Cheadle, Del Toro, and a very effective Kieran Culkin—is third-billed. He gets a lot to do but not really. Ditto cop Jon Hamm. Move assembles a picture perfect cast and gives them very little to do. Cheadle at least gets something to do for long stretches of the film. No one else.

Lots of good acting in the supporting parts. Brendan Fraser’s the guy who puts the job together, Ray Liotta and Bill Duke are the warring local crime bosses who both have it out for Cheadle, Amy Seimetz as Harbour’s wife. There really aren’t any female roles. Seimetz gets more than everyone else, but she’s still mostly there to support Harbour or son Noah Jupe. Jupe’s okay. It’d be better if he were better.

It’d be better if the writing for him were better too.

Hamm in particular is completely wasted.

Harbour’s good, but it’s far from a breakout part or performance. The third-billing is a bit of deceptive aggrandizing.

I’m tempted to give a list of movies to watch instead of No Sudden Move, which is far from the reaction I wanted to have. Even with the fisheye, I was rooting for No Sudden Move and making a lot of allowances for Ed Solomon’s script. But the third act is just too much of a mess. And Soderbergh completely gives up on it with the directing too; after waiting for him to leverage the fisheye the entire movie (there’s maybe one shot of Harbour where the fisheye emphasizes his perspective), Soderbergh has to go high contrast to hide the lack of budget and it looks really, really bad. Twelve year-olds filming toy dinosaurs in their backyards with Super 8s have done better action shots.

No Sudden Move’s not not a waste of time and energy. There’s good acting but for nothing.

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