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'No Sudden Move': Masterful crime thriller

Benicio Del Toro (L) and Don Cheadle (R)

Benicio Del Toro (L) and Don Cheadle (R) in "No Sudden Move" on HBO Max. Credit: HBO Max/Warner Bros. Pictures/Claudette Barius

MOVIE "No Sudden Move"

WHERE HBO Max

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Steven Soderbergh returns to one of his favorite genres with the star-studded period crime thriller "No Sudden Move."

The filmmaker behind everything from the George Clooney- and Brad Pitt-led "Ocean's" trilogy to "Logan Lucky" is comfortable in this space but too smart and accomplished to let that translate into laziness.

So his latest picture, now streaming on HBO Max, has the freshness and vitality one might expect from a director who has spent far less time in this universe.

It stars Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro as Detroit gangsters Curt Goynes and Ronald Russo, circa 1954.

They are offered thousands of dollars by a man named Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) to watch the Wertz family for several hours while patriarch Matt (David Harbour), an accountant, is forced to retrieve something valuable from the automotive company that employs him.

Things do not go as planned.

Co-stars include Amy Seimetz, Ray Liotta, Jon Hamm, Kieran Culkin, Bill Duke and Julia Fox ("Uncut Gems").

MY SAY Much of Soderbergh's filmmaking success has to do with the fact that he understands the medium as well as anyone who has ever worked in it.

Soderbergh doesn't just direct his movies; he typically serves as cinematographer and editor as well (albeit under pseudonyms).

It's become something of a critical cliché to point this out more than three decades after "Sex, Lies & Videotape," but it's the clearest way to articulate why "No Sudden Move" works as well as it does.

The neo-noir has one of the more blatant MacGuffins in recent memory as its central plot device, while the twist and turns are needlessly complicated.

The screenplay, by the veteran Ed Solomon (the "Bill & Ted" franchise), offers up a wealth of snappy dialogue and some tightly-written thriller sequences but not much in the way of a coherent larger focus in its depiction of corporate espionage during this fraught period in American history.

So it's up to Soderbergh and his excellent actors to bring the picture alive — and they do, thanks to several smart choices.

The filmmaker shoots the picture with wide-angle lenses that distort the edges of each frame and force the viewer into an enclosed space with the characters. The approach drives home the tension and anxiety underlying this labyrinthine world of double-crosses, layering onto it an appropriately surreal framework.

Two of the best actors around, Cheadle and Del Toro embrace these unconventional rhythms to give performances that are as defined by humorous asides and moments of unexpected kindness as the deep mistrust festering between Curt and Ronald.

Soderbergh masterfully utilizes all the tools of cinema at his disposal — ranging from crosscutting, to long takes and canted angles — to keep "No Sudden Move" operating in a space that's at once familiar and very much its own thing. You might not entirely understand what's happening and why, but you're entertained the whole way.

BOTTOM LINE This is a crime thriller with great acting that once again illustrates Steven Soderbergh's mastery of the genre.

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