Steven Soderbergh’s latest is No Sudden Move (2021), and it’s an absorbing, convoluted crime tale set in Detroit in the 1950s. Just released from prison, Curtis Goynes (Don Cheadle) immediately hooks up with a new criminal gig that seems too good to be true: “babysit” the family of accountant Matt Wertz (David Harbour) as, under duress, he retrieves an item from work. But there’s a problem: Curtis is a marked man in the Detroit underworld, and he’s forcibly partnered with slippery boozer Ronald Russo (Benicio del Toro), whose reputation similarly precedes him. When the blackmail scheme fails to come off, everything goes sideways, forcing Goynes and Russo to reluctantly collaborate on an exit strategy. Their improvisational scheming pits them against rival crime families, the police, the auto industry, and various individuals angling to take advantage of the corruption of a burgeoning industrial landscape.
Living up to its name, No Sudden Move takes a while to warm up, but once the engine turns over it proves to be a compelling, intricate thriller. The plot twists and turns are unforgiving, an involved murder-board construction in which virtually every character dotted-lines to another, everyone possessing greedy aspirations and ill intent. This leads to constant conflict and intrigue, and fortunately it isn’t just nihilistic noir positioning; the conspiracy fueling everyone’s cagey angling is a thematic master stroke that satisfyingly decodes everything. It’s possible the script spells out that meaning too blatantly; Matt Damon turns up late in a key, monologuing role that makes sense of all the hugger-mugger. If his villainy is perhaps a bit too expositional, the film can be forgiven for breaking things down considering how complicated its tangle of motives and interests until then. Unsurprisingly, Cheadle and del Toro make for an entertaining criminal duo, and the cast is loaded with effective talent, including Kieran Culkin, Bill Duke, Julia Fox, Brendan Fraser, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, and Amy Seimetz. Overall, it’s a bracing period entertainment that nicely sews a point of view into its tricky crime tapestry.