In his new feature, No Sudden Move, Steven Soderbergh follows the most fundamental rules of modern film noir. The film takes place in a mid-century era of the American past, at roughly the same time when classic Hollywood film noirs with in their boom years, and the story is hammered onto a frame of real-life corporate malfeasance. The main protagonists are terse and tough, the antagonists are imperiously uncaring, and the poor saps drawn in as comparatively innocent bystanders are beset with mounting anxiety and dread. It’s also shot stylishly and edited crisply (both chores handled by Soderbergh under his usual pseudonyms), all the better to evoke the bygone triumphs by the likes of Nicholas Ray and Robert Siodmak.
Set in the nineteen-fifties, No Sudden Move sets its gears in motion as a trio of small-time hoods are separately recruited to handle what appears to be a simple job. The plan is to watch over a household as one member of it is taken into an office workspace to retrieve a document. Events don’t proceed according to plan. Of course they don’t. There’s not much of a movie otherwise.
Ed Solomon’s screenplay follows the proper scheme for this grimy, complex narrative (including the tendency to occasionally make the knots so complicated that it’s hard to discern how the different parts of the cord coil around the others), and the visual trappings are assembled nicely. Soderbergh knows his way around this sort of material. He handles the film with old-hand panache, even if his trick of shooting with vintage wide-angle lenses that bend the image at the sides creates a distorted look that distracts rather than enhances. His deftness with actors is evident, too. There’s fine work by leads Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro, both members of Soderbergh’s troupe of regulars, and strong, juicy supporting turns by David Harbour and Amy Seimetz.
Soderbergh has been remarkably prolific in recent years. Starting from Logan Lucky, released in 2017, he’s delivered six feature films over the course of five years. In his spare time, he co-produced the Oscars. No Sudden Move has the unfussy focus and slightly bland sturdiness of a moviemaker who’s satisfied in doing his job and simply moving on to the next opportunity. Maybe the way in which No Sudden Move is most like a throwback is in its feel of studio-system factory efficiency. It’s a movie that’s satisfying enough, a diverting entertainment that doesn’t linger much in the memory, all the better to leaving the viewer ready and eager to move on to the next collection of flickering images to plop off the end of the assembly line. That might sound dismissive; I don’t mean it to be. There’s a real art to cinematic widget making, and Soderbergh is a better artist than most.