Rating: 2 out of 5
Steven Soderbergh is an inconsistent and thoroughly perplexing auteur. His latest film No Sudden Move is a heist film that wined and dined a much smaller gangster epic only to eat the gangster film and regurgitate it as a minute political thriller, choking on the vomit. If my metaphor is imperfect it’s only to evoke how tepid Soderbergh is in approach in spite of the eclectic subject matter. This is a film that relies on a single visual gimmick for the entirety of the runtime in spite of how it squishes its compelling lead characters performances on the side of the screen and makes them appear as though they are caught in a funhouse mirror. Soderbergh wants too much with No Sudden Move, a film of ludicrous excesses that intends to make incisive political commentary on the shortcuts those in power take to make money and the little men who are conned and forced into executing their bidding, even when it all ends up being misplaced hope in a system that washes itself clean even as the bodies stack high and the blood runs thick. The earnest intentions of the screenplay by Ed Solomon are at odds with the stylized period drama that Soderbergh wants to make, what we receive is a second rate Coen brothers film with some occasionally first rate performances that are muted both by the overwhelming deluge of characters and too by the cold technicality of the plotting.
These two elements are poisonous to each other throughout the duration of the film, the sheer number of characters and their respective personalities are diluted by how little time we are given to spend with each one of them. Rarely in this film are we treated to a character’s journey as an individual, they are instantly subsumed into some group the moment they are introduced, this is immediately true of the Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) character who is rendered as a purely exterior subject, everything we know about him is surface level and cheap, what we see is what we get, there is no hidden motive or hint of intrigue within him. This cannot be blamed on the performance as Cheadle actually struggles through the muted intentions of his character, always promising that there may be some payoff for the ambiguity which comes in the form of a fairly poignant coda obstructed only by the films insistence on rendering it’s politics more clearly than it’s characters.
There are some notable performances wherein the actors greet the flimsy material with enthusiasm and charisma. Brendan Fraser, though acting in a rather small role, proves to be a towering presence in the film, he’s magnetic and brooding, there’s a darkness that pervades his character, the only member of the conspiracy who holds a sense of doom and foreboding. The other highlight is David Harbour who looks like he’s having the time of his life playing a schlubby husband reluctant to act as a hero in order to protect his family but knowing it’s going to be an uncomfortable house to return to as he is the vulnerable catalyst for this precarious situation. Even if some of the plot threads surrounding these two characters become overburdened and hazy in the myriad of twists and reversals that ultimately render the characters meaningless in their tangential meaning to the film’s political intentions which always rings louder than any of the memorable characters and the plot which is self-assured even as it crumbles under the weight of its various moving and increasingly irrelevant components.
Every scene either moves too quickly or slowly, switching between antsy scenes of exposition into elongated attempts at “quirky” character moments where it ruminates on the eccentricities of the characters rather than their particularities. Ray Liotta’s character is a great example of this, he plays what you’d expect, a wealthy gangster, since he’s wanted to be one his whole life but his ascending desperation is never classified in any meaningful way and at worst is reduced to a stereotypically masculine simplicity that might be compelling in another filmmakers hands (say Bong Joon-ho or the aforementioned Coen’s). His character is rushed through the film as if the writers couldn’t wait to get rid of him, for such a dense plot of intrigue and massive twists the film doesn’t act as if the players within are important.
So schmuck’s will tell you this is a film worth seeing but anyone with a keen sense of smell know this thing reeks of the shallow neoliberalist tendencies of so called “leftist” Hollywood cinema with Matt Damon delivering a speech about corporate greed and espousing historical facts about pollution and its tether to the automobile industry. This is an abrupt shift in the final act of the film that could’ve otherwise been a rather potent undercurrent throughout the entire picture, instead, we are treated to the now all too regular trend in media to force “politics” down the throats of viewers because filmmakers obviously believe we are either too stupid or numb to understand politics through the internal lives of their characters so they need to focus them in the foreground and sacrifice genuine, honest and captivating characters in the process. Not to say Soderbergh has no right to be political just because he’s a successful Hollywood filmmaker, just to suggest that perhaps he crafts something a bit more earnest next time rather than short changing each and every character in his film for the sake of chasing trends in the stinking cadaver of neoliberalist morality.