No Sudden Move (HBO Max)
Directed by Steven Soderberg
Rating: *** ½
For my money and time Steven Soderberg is among the ten most intriguing storytellers in American cinema. Didn’t he take Meryl Streep and her pals on a revealing cruise in Let Them All Talk just some months ago?
No Sudden Moves is a far more complex yarn. The characters caught in a web of monetary deceit , seem to be constantly lying to one another, sometimes unaware of their untruth. The plot is a puddle of simmering possibilities and threats. Danger lurks in a very peculiar almost casual way, and when our dread is manifested in the dead, there is no self-congratulation as the characters move from one level of crime to another.
It all begins in 1950s in Detroit, the city of motorcars which play a crucial part in the plot, with an average suburban family being held at ransom while the father of the family Matt(David Harbor) is sent to get some documents from his office in exchange for his family’s safety.
Soon one of the three criminals Charley(Kieren Culkin) is dead on the floor of the family’s kitchen. The surviving criminals Curt (Don Cheadle) and Ronald (Benicio del Toro) then become the moral fulcrum of a plot so dense in construction and movement it stays at least 5 steps ahead of our expectations . For a while the plot stays with Curt and Ronald. But they aren’t really the heroes of a story whose construct suggests a rapid erosion of values at the top , seeping into the lower echelons.
No one is freed from deceit except perhaps Matt’s little daughter.I am not too sure about her either. His son(Noah Jupe, an emerging star) is pulling off his own little confessional compromises with the detective on duty(Jon Hamm, who in spite of that incriminating name is not a ham).
It all seems to scatter and run into various directions, all dark and inviting. Master storyteller that he is, with a firm grip over the grammar of greed and retribution, Steven Soderberg remains in full control of his characters , letting them run into blind alleys where they meet their nemesis without much acrimony. The course of Ronald’s liaison with the sexy Vanessa(Julia Fox) is the stuff that Steven Soderberg’s fan can roll their tongues around. Women in Steven Soderberg’s cinema are seldom trustworthy.
No Sudden Moves is filled sudden moves that transport the covetous characters into dilemmas they never foresee. As is the wont in Soderberg’s cinema, some of the violence is savagely funny. I am not into brutality for laughs. But the apologetic manner in which Matt punches his boss with the reverent attitude of a man who has to do what he has to, is priceless.
Downstairs Ronald who has accompanied Matt to his boss’s home, gently puts a sheet on the boss’ genteel wife’s whimpering face , so he can take off his mask and relax.
That never really happens. The masks that the characters wear never come off and we never get to relax. No Sudden Moves is not easy to follow. I’ve watched it twice. And I still don’t know the exact purpose of every character. Not that it matters. Everyone in Steven Soderberg’s universe is doing what he or she has to . If blood is spilt in the process, so be it.