Who knew the catalytic converter could cause so much trouble?
NO SUDDEN MOVE (2021), the latest movie by director Steven Soderbergh, now playing in theaters and on HBO Max, is a stylish thriller that takes place in 1950s Detroit about a pair of criminals who find themselves in the middle of a robbery gone wrong and suddenly are being chased by so many unsavory characters you’ll need a scorecard to keep track, in a plot which involves the auto industry and the fight over some innovative top secret information!
As plots go, it’s pretty darn interesting!
Recently out of jail, Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) is looking for work, and he’s none too picky about what he takes. He accepts a sketchy job from Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) which involves a team of three, and includes Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro) and Charley (Kieran Culkin). They invade the home of a man Matt Wertz (David Harbour) and his family. While Curt and Ron remain in the home holding the family hostage, Charley takes Matt to his office and forces Matt to break into his boss’ safe and steal the documents located there. When Matt opens the safe, he discovers the documents are gone, but rather than tell Charley this, he hands the criminal substitute documents.
This leads to a violent chain reaction, upon which Curt realizes they have been set up, and he and Ron decide to go after the missing documents themselves and get paid handsomely for them. Which proves to be no easy task, since there are a lot of people who want those documents and who will kill for them. And not only do Curt and Ron need to stay one step ahead of the unsavory characters who are after them, but also they have to contend with detective Joe Finney (Jon Hamm) who is hot on their trail.
The less said about the plot the better, because it really is a compelling story. The screenplay by Ed Solomon is solid. It does get a bit confusing as it goes along, as there are so many characters and twists and turns in the story, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. I liked the two main characters, Curt and Ron, a lot, and their back and forth chatter works well. The dialogue throughout is excellent. And I liked the connection to the auto industry, as it’s not every day you see a thriller about the catalytic converter.
Solomon also wrote NOW YOU SEE ME (2013) a snappy thriller which I enjoyed and starred Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, and Woody Harrelson, among others, and way back in the day, he co-wrote BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (1989), and he also wrote MEN IN BLACK (1997). So, he’s no stranger to writing catchy dialogue.
Don Cheadle delivers the best performance in the film. He gives Curt grit and determination, and he plays the character as a stand up guy, in spite of his criminal past. He’s only after the money to get back what he believes is rightfully his. And he’s not about taking innocent lives with him to do it. It’s some of Cheadle’s best work since HOTEL RWANDA (2004).
Benicio Del Toro is nearly as good as Ronald Russo, the former mob enforcer who is now running from the mob since he slept with his boss’ wife. Not smart, Ronald! Del Toro plays Russo as an often lethargic hit man who is constantly looking for a drink. It’s a terrific understated performance.
David Harbour, looking thinner and trimmer than as of late, is cast against his STRANGER THINGS Sheriff Hopper persona, playing Matt Wertz, a cowardly weasel of a man who is not above risking the lives of his family as he plots with his girlfriend and boss’ secretary to rip off the company, a plan which blows up in his face in far worse ways than he could ever imagine.
Amy Seimetz also delivers a strong performance as Matt’s long suffering wife Mary, who finds ordinary life a struggle and can’t handle going through the motions of what she views as a phony existence, and so she already has issues with life even before the violent plot against her family rears its ugly head. Seimetz has been in a bunch of things, from the remake of PET SEMATARY (2019) to ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) to co-starring with David Harbour in STRANGER THINGS (2016-2017).
While Jon Hamm is effective as Detective Joe Finney, he actually doesn’t get to do a whole heck of a lot. I expected more from the role.
It was fun to see Brendan Fraser back on the “big” screen again. I hadn’t seen him in a movie in a while. And he chews up the scenery as the mysterious mobster who sets everything in motion by hiring these men. Speaking of chewing up the scenery, Ray Liotta does just that in a small role as head mobster Frank Capelli.
And there’s an uncredited performance in the film’s conclusion that adds a lot to the climax of this movie.
I’m not the biggest fan of Steven Soderbergh. His thriller UNSANE (2018) shot entirely with an IPhone 7 was just so-so, and he’s made a bunch of other films I’ve found simply lukewarm, films like SIDE EFFECTS (2013) and CONTAGION (2011). And I’m not a fan of his OCEAN’S movies. But I really liked his quirky crime comedy LOGAN LUCKY (2017), and of course back in the day he made films like THE LIMEY (1999) and SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE (1989).
But I really liked NO SUDDEN MOVE. Soderbergh captures the look and feel of 1950s Detroit with seeming ease. He gets the most out of his actors’ performances, and he keeps this one thrilling throughout. I did think it slowed a bit towards the end, picking up just in time for its satisfying conclusion.
Overall, NO SUDDEN MOVE has a great cast, a superb script, and a creative director who is operating at the top of his game.
And you’ll even learn a little history about the catalytic converter.
Yup, it’s definitely a movie you “auto” watch.