Curt Goynes, a two-bit criminal just out of jail, needs cash and lands a seemingly easy payday at the beginning of “No Sudden Move.” All he has to do is detain a family in their home at gunpoint for three hours and then he can walk away with $5,000. It’s 1954 in Detroit and that sounds like a easy job.
Except this is a noir crime flick from director Steven Soderbergh and that means nothing is easy except perhaps some double-crossing, triple-crossing and, befitting an Olympic year, the very difficult quadruple-cross with a twist.
Trust no one in “No Sudden Move,” a hard-boiled, ever-expanding con that rises from the ragged streets to the stately boardrooms of conspiratorial Big Auto and the corrupt police precincts of the Motor City. It’s sort of a “Chinatown” for Detroit.
Soderbergh, as always, has assembled an insane cast, with Don Cheadle as the closest thing to a hero. There’s also Brendan Fraser, Benicio Del Toro, Kieran Culkin, David Harbour, Ray Liotta, Bill Duke, Jon Hamm and Matt Damon. But this is no “Ocean’s Eleven” — it’s as dour and sluggish and deliberative as Soderbergh’s other crime caper franchise is joyfully slick and stylish.
The film takes place over two frantic days and Soderbergh is clearly trying to ape the look and feel of a noir melodrama that feels from the 1950s, using tilted camera angles, old-fashioned lenses that distort and language that skims close to the gangster-speak of pulpy old movies — “So what’s the score?” and “It’s a setup!”
But he and screenwriter Ed Solomon also want to elevate the material to more than just wiseguys in fedoras driving classic cars with fins. So they’ve dressed up “No Sudden Move” with oblique references to racial tension, redlining and capitalist greed. It’s welcome but not enough, like progressive window-dressing.
Cheadle is perfect — and perfectly named as Curt — a savvy, mostly quiet smart thinker. Culkin leans into the unstable, dangerous energy we so adore in “Succession” and Del Toro uses his side-eyed menace to great effect. Hamm is a charming cop, Fraser is a scary bully and Damon can’t conceal his boyish charisma even in a baddie role. Harbour wonderfully plays the role of a regular guy in over his head that William H. Macy is famous for and Liotta still just has to stare to fill a room with dread.
Perhaps most refreshing are the female characters, so often in ‘50s noir relegated to vixens in pill hats or virginal moms in housedresses. Amy Seimetz plays an unhappy, self-medicating wife and mother who is stifled in her ’50s life, and both Julia Fox and Frankie Shaw make waves with unexpected juice.
Shot during the pandemic, there’s a nod to 2020 even in 1954 when the home invasion that starts the film includes men in masks. There also is careful thought into everything — the use of vintage wallpaper, the GM lobby scenes being shot in the actual GM headquarters lobby from 1954 and composer David Holmes apparently wearing entirely `50s clothes while working on the score — but the end result may leave you a little ripped off.
The double-crosses aren’t fun and yet there’s not enough social message in the bake. The film seems to say the world is a plutocracy and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. (“You are under the illusion of control,” our hero is told.) With so many murky motives, there’s little to care about, no way to anticipate the next con and no sense of real peril. We suggest you put it in your streaming queue but make no sudden move for it.
“No Sudden Move,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release that streams on HBO Max beginning July 1, is rated R for “language throughout, some violence and sexual references.” Running time: 115 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.