Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Out of Sight: NO SUDDEN MOVE

Steven Soderbergh’s small and satisfying No Sudden Move gets by on style and the sheer propulsive pleasure of plot. His filmmaking is so slick and precise that he can serve both at once. He’s a master of aesthetic detail — here a 50’s period piece shot with vintage anamorphic lensing and modern digital sheen — and of storytelling. Together the images pop with meaningful blocking and striking compositions, while the tight compelling story unfolds and unfolds and unfolds. The screenplay sets up an Elmore Leonard-style schemes-within-schemes Detroit crime caper that locates that town’s mid-century power structures: cops, cars companies, and mobsters. Then it watches as one little scam grows out of control simply because it pops off and cuts across all three lines of influence. We start with low-level criminals (Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Kieran Culkin) hired to help watch the family of an accountant (David Harbour) as he’s forced at gunpoint to go to the office and take some car component designs out of a safe. It’s not so simple. The intelligence of Ed Solomon’s screenplay, beyond the clever wit to the dialogue and clockwork connections between people, is to catch all the characters in the middle of their own complicated lives, with unexpected interpersonal variables and cross-conflicts. This is just one more thing to throw a wrench into so many plans. Soon we have murder and infidelities and home invasion and bags of money and calls up the chain of command. Everyone needs to get their hands on this problem, ostensibly to solve it to their liking, but really to try to come out a little richer. 

Along the way, we get a little wiser to the corruption floating through Detroit at the time, and Soderbergh sharply draws our attention to the futility behind the characters’ competing goals. They scurry around, and there’s always someone higher up to swoop in to wave a gun, to make new deals, or to propose a better scam on top of the other scams. It’s the kind of crime picture that can introduce new big name actors to step in with a complication an hour or an hour and a half into the proceedings and it feels like yet another pleasurable twist. The large, well-cast ensemble — also including Brendan Fraser, Julia Fox, Jon Hamm, Amy Seimetz, Noah Jupe, Frankie Shaw, Bill Duke, and more surprises throughout — expertly navigates the twists and turns by being locked in on their own particular duties and struggles. Some show marvelous in-over-their-heads exasperation, while others are rattled and sidelined, and still more think they’re in total control. Maybe. Maybe not. Some are too smart for their own good; others can’t even grasp how behind they are. There’s no sudden move out of this when the motor city’s most corrupt are out to stop forward progress. This trust-no-one caper is briskly, crisply entertaining on a scene by scene level as it adds up to yet another of Soderbergh’s pleasurable genre experiments, and a recapitulation of his oft returned-to maxim: “When the person in charge won't get to the bottom of something, it's usually because they are at the bottom of that something.”

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