No Sudden Move (Review)

When watching Steven Soderbergh’s latest, the first thing that stands out is how it is shot. The whole film has a distorted look. Things aberrate at the edges of the screen and there is an almost fish-eye effect; though, it’s more like watching on an old non-flat screen TV. This is produced by period appropriate (the film is set in the 50s), anamorphic lenses. Matching the equipment to the time is a fun choice, placing the film in the past but placing it in a cinematic version of the past (already a nice match for the themes of truth and falsity the film plays with). Also, it instantly evokes the feel of classic noir, a genre it is playing with in typical Steven Soderbergh fashion. But, this also jars with the image’s definition. The picture is crisp, yet distorted. The unique way these lenses flair seems at odds with the clarity of the image. It creates a distortion that is core to the film as a whole.

No Sudden Move is a noir, a crime caper and a dark comedy. These are all traditional things. But, it is also skewed, different and always slightly off (in the best way). And it wants you to know this. Hence the lenses: straight away this is a mix of comfortable traditionalism but sharp reality. It is a filmic look, a calming and nostalgic one, but then it does not let you quite fall into this mode. It is arresting and it is perfectly in keeping with this typically-Soderberghian thriller.

The story unfurls nicely, we start with a con gone wrong. A hostage situation, or is it?, escalates (or dissipates) while those involved try to grasp what is really going on. It is a film you can only describe these tentative statements, a shifting thing that cleverly defies classification. On one hand, it is such a classily made traditional thriller. You have a whole bunch of movie stars giving understated, but excellent, performances in a crime story that takes place in a familiar setting with convincing production design. It is a goes-down-smooth, satisfying movie. But, then it also isn’t this. It is warped, the dynamics are slightly off and the characters are confused. There is an uncanniness to the whole piece which is really enthralling, and only adds to the eventual anti-capitalist messages about rigged systems and endemic inequality. Our world is fixed but skewed: fixed for the rich and skewed by them. This film follows that same pattern, feeling rigid and traditional yet atypical all the way through.

It is a really satisfying film. The plot keeps going interesting directions and is full of great moments. There are a number of sharply written speeches and the film manages its multiple characters well. It never gets too focused on one, but it also never gives too much clarity. No Sudden Move, like its title suggests, is at its best when it evokes hesitancy. This is in the filmmaking, it is in the plot and it is in the performances. It is that element that keeps the audience at a slight distance, never quite sure what to make of things but always satisfied by the craft on display. This takes us back to the juxtaposed style of the photography. It is a wonderfully cohesive film, fascinatingly so, as it coheres towards obfuscation and a lack of clarity.

After all, this is a film about coverups, secrets and mysteries. It is pretty perfect that the craft is in conversation with this. So, yes, you get a terrific lead performance from Don Cheadle, you get a jazzy soundtrack and the genre tropes and thrills you would expect. You even get the look of the genre film you are expecting. But then, even that great performance has a fascinating restraint, and though he is the lead, Cheadle is often side-lined (purposefully) and spends much of the film trying to keep up, or having to act on hunches. And that music doesn’t hit as frequently as you would think, and the look is slightly off. It is classic Soderbergh. It is experiment with intent and it really works, a satisfyingly slippery thriller that sticks with you.

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