Is No Sudden Move the Best Movie of All Time?

This is Best Movie of All Time, an eternal search for the greatest film ever. Read the full archives here.

Steven Soderbergh was on WTF with Marc Maron last week to promote his new film No Sudden Move. Maron spent a significant amount of the interview discussing the realities of filmmaking with the director. I’d encourage anyone with any interest in films to listen to it, as Soderbergh is more honest about his career than most people are willing to be in settings like a huge podcast with tons of listeners. He says that he’s failed a few times, which is nothing new to admit, but he talks about how failure changes your view of what you do next. David Mamet, years ago on the same show, said something that sticks with me still: “you can sink with your good ideas, but if you want to succeed, you better learn to entertain people.” Mamet arguably is not taking his own advice and obviously has some significant issues these days, but it all ties back to a conversation that Soderbergh goes much deeper on.

Soderbergh said that No Sudden Move is a movie, not a film. He also said that he hasn’t made a film since Che in 2008. All of his recent works are movies, not films. Maron pushed him on this distinction and the director said that films win awards. It seems to be like the classic definition of pornography: “you know it when you see it.” A film is a specific type of movie to Soderbergh, and honestly, this is a definition we can all probably live with in some way. The Academy even recently tried to make a new category for “popular” movies, which would definitely feature what Soderbergh would call “movies” and not “films.” Soderbergh has only made two movies that lost money, prior to the recent apocalypse for theaters, and those are Che, which he calls a film, and his remake of Solaris which we have discussed in this series before. I’m not sure if losing money is necessarily a defining point in the movie/film continuum, but there’s probably something there.

No Sudden Move is probably a better movie than Ocean’s Eleven or Logan Lucky, my two favorite Soderbergh movies (not films), but I don’t think I enjoyed it as much. Almost every review urges you to see it twice, which I normally balk at but this time I obliged. I don’t think you should have to see anything twice, but if you feel compelled some movies definitely reward repeat viewings. The twists here aren’t necessarily so confusing that you need to do it twice, but the second viewing will help you understand how some characters feel they fit into all of this. There’s still plenty unexplained, but that’s the nature of the genre. Sometimes when characters move past the double cross into the triple cross in a gangster movie, you’re not meant to keep track.

Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro play small-time hoods who get called in for what should be an easy job. They’re supposed to “babysit” a family and collect a document from a safe. It’s easy, then it becomes difficult. This is run-of-the-mill stuff for a movie like this, but the art is in how you pivot. The heist itself is tense, as it requires a low-level employee (David Harbour, who you’ll recognize from Stranger Things) to leverage his affair with a secretary to gain entry to a safe. The safe is empty, onto the next twist. Things progress from there.

I won’t walk you through the plot, because movies like this are all in the plot. Ray Liotta is fantastic as the hot-heated schemer who put this all together, Brendan Fraser is an absolute highlight as a mid-level crook, and Amy Seimetz, Jon Hamm, and Bill Duke really make even smaller roles feel like significant, real characters caught up in a constantly expanding mess.

I do have to give away a cameo to talk about the best part, though. Matt Damon plays the money behind the muscle and shows up towards the end to explain what was really happening. This device can feel forced in lesser movies, but here it reads like George Clooney’s Danny Ocean moments where he tells everyone exactly what was happening during all the quick cuts and the jazzy music. This is less of a reveal after misdirects and more of a look in the boardroom, but it plays out the same way. It speaks to the larger politics of Detroit and the 1950s war between car companies that is all happening in the background of No Sudden Move and it makes this feel like a much more significant movie as a result. This isn’t just ten crooks all trying to rob each other, this is a story about a much, much larger robbery than any one person could pull off.

The leads are good and the supporting cast is even better, and ultimately this is just a very clever, very smoothly polished story about what happens when people try to take more than they’re given. There are several scenes where characters put words to the theme, directly pointing out to each other that they’re being greedy. It never rises to the level of the rat in The Departed, but it’s an interesting metacommentary on the film within the film. It’s worth seeing once, and maybe twice, but I see what Soderbergh means when he calls it a “movie” and not a “film.” Maybe you think that’s him being self-effacing, but I think it’s him moving the bar down. If this is just supposed to be a good time, it clears that bar with ease.

Is it better than the last movie we looked at? Yes, this is significantly better than Tropic Thunder. It will age better, too, which is interesting. The targets here (greed and corporate crime being more insidious than individual crime) are targets that will deserve ire for a very, very long time.

Is it the best movie of all time? I guess you could spin this question for a Soderbergh production, given his terminology. The best movie is significantly better than the worst film, using his terms, but I guess the best film ever is better than the best movie ever. Maybe we’re stretching this, but Soderbergh was not trying to dethrone Persona when he made this movie, so it’s fair that he didn’t do it.

You can watch No Sudden Move on HBO Max (subscription required). You can recommend a movie to me for this series through email at readingatrecess @ gmail.com or on Twitter @alexbad and I will watch it, no matter what. Try to pick something good.

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