Claudette Barius / Warner Bros.
Eight years ago, Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement from feature film directing. Fortunately for us, it turned out to be short-lived. Since 2017, he’s been in tears, releasing one or two new movies a year, including the brilliant NASCAR thriller Heist Lucky logan, the sharp drama of the sports agency High-flying bird and The laundery, an irreverent look at financial fraud in the 21st century. What ties these films together is how sensitive they are to issues of class and money in a way that is still quite rare in Hollywood.
Soderbergh’s captivating new film, No sudden movement, continues this trend. It’s an ensemble crime thriller set in Detroit in 1954, a beautifully crafted world of fedoras and trench coats, smoky-paneled desks and vintage automobiles. Like the classic 1950s blacks that inspired him, Ed Solomon’s densely-drawn storyline is full of double crosses and dirty dealings.
At the center of the story are two crooks: Don Cheadle plays Curt Goynes and Benicio Del Toro plays Ronald Russo. These are low level gangsters who were hired by a Mr. Jones – a very menacing turn from Brendan Fraser – as part of a plan to coerce a guy named Mark into stealing a top secret document from the company where he works. .
Curt and Ronald’s job is to “keep” Mark’s wife and children at home during the flight. But as one would expect from a tense situation with masked men, loaded guns and a terrified family, the ploy quickly turns sour. Amid the fallout, Curt and Ronald realize that they have been drawn into a major corporate plot.
When the document eventually falls into their possession, they realize that they could reap big rewards from it if they play their cards right – and if they stay alive. This is a big “if” because they quickly learn that their heads come at a price. Over the next few days, they ran into a number of villainous characters, including a local hub played by Bill Duke and a surly gangster played by Ray Liotta. Jon Hamm poses as a curious police detective – and seems at home in the previous decade Mad Men.
Through it all, Cheadle and Del Toro, who have both worked with Soderbergh before, maintain a pleasantly combative rapport, playing two very different men who have grown weary of their life of crime. As Ronald plans to retire, Curt has nobler intentions: He wants to donate some of the loot to black communities in Detroit that have suffered greatly from racist housing policies and zoning laws.
These are just a few of the many social issues addressed by the film, including tensions between the city’s black and Italian populations and the dire environmental consequences of an unchecked auto industry. These questions don’t always fit into the story as easily as they could have been, but they do give No sudden movement a powerful advantage nonetheless. You’re drawn to Hannah Beachler’s suave camera work and rich mid-century production design, but you’re also aware of the inequalities that lurk beneath the surface.
This social conscience is not new to Soderbergh, who has made some of his best films about working class wrestlers, Erin Brockovitch at Magic mike. Here he focuses less on individuals and more on a whole corrupt system, showing us just how twisted the men in the executive suites are as those shooting each other in the streets. But at the same time No sudden movement exhibits many horrific male behaviors, Soderbergh has always been equally interested in his female characters, and he doesn’t overlook the crucial roles played by women in this 1950s gang setting.
Amy Seimetz – a key force in the series produced by Soderbergh The Girlfriend Experience – gives one of the best performances in the film as Mark’s wife, Mary. Unlike her foolish husband, she handles a frightening situation with unruffled intelligence and courage. There are other great actors as well, like Lauren LaStrada, Julia Fox and Frankie Shaw: Lives Call the Shots. I would gladly follow any of them in their own films, especially if Soderbergh is there to direct them.