Stacking the Deck – NO SUDDEN MOVE

Review by William J. Hammon,

The heist movie is a subgenre that’s basically out of gas at this point, at least from a plot perspective. Pretty much every film follows a fairly standard pattern of a big idea, complications that could be easily foreseen with a bit of logical thinking, at least two betrayals, and an ultimate victor when it comes to the actual score. It’s been done to death, reanimated, done to death again (including with zombies), beaten like the proverbial horse, revived once more for good measure, and driven back into the ground.

There really is no story point that can keep the idea fresh anymore, so those that still take it upon themselves to venture into this territory are left with the challenge of sustaining the grand illusion by imbuing the film with stylistic touches, memorable characters, and a strong cast. Thankfully, Steven Soderbergh is more than up to the task with No Sudden Move. While the formula is nothing new, he at least aims for an entertaining outing with this latest entry, giving us some solid performances and unique touches so that we can at least enjoy the inevitable.

Set in 1950s Detroit, the crux of the film is on two low-level gangsters, Curt Goynes (played spectacularly by Don Cheadle, almost enough to forgive his involvement in the Space Jamsequel) and Ronald Russo, given a passable Midwestern accent by Benicio del Toro. Both of them are on the outs with their respective organized crime kingpins – Curt to Bill Duke’s Aldrick Watkins, to whom he owes a debt, and Ronald to Frank Capelli, played by Ray Liotta, who knows that Ronald is having an affair with his wife Vanessa (Julia Fox) – and reluctantly take an offer for a “babysitting” job by enforcer Doug Jones (an almost unrecognizable Brendan Fraser) in hopes of using their payday to extricate themselves from their individual difficulties.

Along with a hotheaded crook named Charley (Kieran Culkin being delightfully off-kilter), the three are tasked with taking a suburban family hostage and forcing the father (David Harbour) to steal an envelope of corporate secrets from his boss’ office. Harbour’s Matt Wertz (which instantly threw me because I went to high school with someone by that name) has his own problems, as he’s been having a tryst with his boss’ secretary, Paula (Frankie Shaw), and was planning to use the information in that envelope to broker his own exit to California, leaving his family behind, a truth not lost on wife Mary (Amy Seimetz) or son Matthew Jr. (Noah Jupe).

The operation goes pear-shaped, because you literally can’t have a heist movie if everything goes according to the first plan, and within minutes the film escalates into a game of risks, backstabs, gang warfare, mental gymnastics, and corporate collusion. For all the different alleys the plot eventually goes down, I have to give credit to Soderbergh at the very least for maintaining a proper pace. The story never goes so fast that you can’t keep up, yet never drags into unnecessary diversions. The two-hour affair feels brisk, but comfortable throughout.

The cast as well is superb, particularly Cheadle and Culkin, and Liotta’s an absolute hoot for his limited role. It honestly says a lot about how strong the ensemble is that bona fide A-listers like Jon Hamm and Matt Damon are left with fairly small roles, and yet they feel natural within them, even if one of them almost comes off like an extended cameo. It also helps that screenwriter Ed Solomon (the Bill & Ted series, Now You See Me, and yes, the Super Mario Bros. movie) provides some fairly hilarious dialogue to undercut the tension at just the right moments. David Harbour I think has the line of the film when he tells his boss, “I’m going to punch you now. This is a punch,” with the best nervous deadpan I’ve seen in a while.

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