Steven Soderbergh shows no signs of slowing down from the streak of quality he’s been on since emerging from his brief early retirement. Soderbergh is also one of the most reliable “name directors” in the game; he’s got the work ethic of a journeyman with the prowess of an auteur, and his films strike the perfect blend of artistry and Hollywood.
His latest, No Sudden Move, premiered on HBO Max this month. A period crime caper set in 1950s Detroit, it’s Soderbergh right in his element. If viewers liked No Sudden Move, there is more they should check out.
10 “Deep Cover” Is An Excellent Neo-Noir
Bill Duke has a small role in No Sudden Move as mob boss Aldrick Watkins; if you want to see how Duke works behind the camera, check his 1992 feature Deep Cover. It stars Laurence “Larry” Fishburne as Russell Stevens Jr, a cop undercover in the Los Angeles drug scene as “John Hull.” The son of a criminal murdered by police, Stevens has vowed to never become like his father, but his chosen path calls him to do just that.
There’s tension in action and dialogue scenes alike, while Jeff Goldblum gets a chance at playing the bad guy. The film’s setting, spotlighting the filthiness (literal and moral) of 1990s’ urban America, feels at home with Abel Ferrera’s Bad Lieutenant, released a year prior. Recently added to the Criterion Collection, Deep Cover demands to be seen.
9 “No Sudden Move” Shares DNA With “The Friends Of Eddie Coyle”
With The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, Peter Yates translate George V. Higgins’ Boston Noir to film. Released in 1973, Robert Mitchum plays the eponymous stocky man, an over-the-hill gun runner besieged by his “friends” on both sides of the law. Mitchum, renowned for his cool charisma, gives one of his most layered performances. Plus, a New Hollywood film starring a Golden Age movie star as a man at the end of his rope? Deliciously recursive.
The two films share some similarities, most obviously their urban Neo-Noir settings. A scene in Eddie Coyle where robbers abduct a bank manager from his suburban home feels like the direct inspiration for the hostage-taking scene in No Sudden Move.
8 “High Flying Bird” Demonstrates Soderbergh’s Range & Experimentation
Soderbergh eagerly embraced the digital filmmaking revolution. Two of his most recent films, the thriller Unsane and sports drama High Flying Bird, took this to the extreme and were shot on iPhones.
In the latter (where Soderbergh pulled triple duty as director, DP, and Editor) André Holland plays Ray Burke, a sports agent attempting to maneuver the end to an NBA strike. A sports movie without any sports played, it’s more exciting than you’d expect.
7 “Killing Them Softly” Is A Similarly Political Crime Movie
Why stick to only one Higgins’ adaptation? Adapted from Cogan’s Trade, director Andrew Dominik uses this gangster movie to tell a story of decline. The decline of the mob, the decline of America, and how the two are interlinked—”America’s not a country,” Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) explains, “it’s just a business.”
This makes Killing Them Softly a similarly political crime movie as No Sudden Move, even if Dominik seems intent on confronting his audience while Soderbergh’s aims are clearly entertainment first, critique second.
6 “Miller’s Crossing” Is An Even Greater Period Crime Film
As far as period gangster films of No Sudden Move‘s ilk go, you can’t beat the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing. Unfortunately overshadowed in the year of its release 1990 by Goodfellas and since by other films in the Coens Canon, the film is one of the sibling duo’s best.
Set in an unnamed US city during Prohibition, Tom Reagan is a gangster playing both sides of a turf war against each other; one is led by his old boss Leo (Albert Finney), the other by up-and-comer Johnny Caspar (John Polito). Tom’s goals are nebulous until the end, but he pulls through thanks to a unique weapon, one most Coens’ protagonists lack: a brain.
5 “Network” Has A Similar Social Critique
Sidney Lumet’s Network is one of the greatest satires committed to film; television may rule our lives, but who rules television? The answer: corporations. Mr. Jensen (Ned Beatty) illustrates this point in an unbeatable villain monologue.
In No Sudden Move, Curtis (Don Cheadle) and Ronald (Benicio Del Toro) confront the owner of the document they’ve been hired to steal, Mr. Lowen (an uncredited Matt Damon). The document, it turns out, is a catalytically converted design, something auto industry magnate Lowen wants concealed. Even after agreeing to the pair’s financial demands, Lowen spouts off that they’ll never rise out of their place even with a fraction of his wealth in hand. Damon is nowhere near as ferocious a performer as Beatty, but the monologue feels like a homage, albeit met with the opposite reaction; where Howard Beale (Peter Finch) was wowed into submission by Jensen, Curtis and Ron shrug off Lowen’s verbal assault.
4 “Ocean’s Eleven” Is The Definitive Heist Movie Of The 21st Century
While Soderbergh has a filmography with 30+ entries and shows no sign of slowing down, odds are that he’ll be remembered for Ocean’s Eleven above all else. A remake of the 1960 Rat Pack vehicle, this 2001 heist film demonstrates Soderbergh’s talent for wrangling A-list talent like no other; it brings together George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and more, all at the height of their careers and charisma.
No Sudden Move doesn’t have this film’s laid-back comedy, and the glamor of Las Vegas is an obvious counterpoint to the urban Detroit. After all, foremost among Soderbergh’s many strengths is range. If you like this one, it’s also worth checking out the sequels (the appropriately-titled Ocean’s Twelve/Thirteen) or Soderbergh’s West Virginia set pseudo-remake, Logan Lucky.
3 “Out Of Sight” Is The Original Soderbergh Crime Movie
After his acclaimed 1989 debut Sex, Lies, And Video Tape, it took Soderbergh nine years to cement his A-list status. The film that let him do it was Out Of Sight, adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name. The story concerns recently-escaped thief Jack Foley (George Clooney); after sharing a ride in a car trunk with US Marshal Karen Cisco (Jennifer Lopez), romantic tension brings the two together even as the law pushes them apart.
Soderbergh honors the novel without unwavering fidelity, but the changes help the story in its transition to film; the result was a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. He also pulls the best out of his actors and camera to make a sleek, sexy movie of the kind simply not seen today. Bonus points—Out Of Sight is also Soderbergh’s first collaboration with No Sudden Move star Don Cheadle.
2 “Traffic” Is Another Of Soderbergh’s Crime Classics
Traffic is a testament to Soderbergh’s work ethic—it was released in 2000, a mere 2 years after Out Of Sight. Yet, in that interim, Soderbergh made two additional films: The Limey and Erin Brockovich. Four movies in three years is impressive, four good movies in three years is a masterstroke.
As for Traffic itself, it’s Soderbergh and Del Toro’s first time working together, with the latter playing Mexican police officer Javier Rodriguez. Rodriguez’s story is one of three held together by the ribbon of the Drug War. Traffic examining how the War On Drugs destroys the lives it’s ostensibly meant to protect was as relevant at the tail of the Clinton era as No Sudden Move spotlighting the auto industry’s complicity in the climate crisis is now.
1 “Uncut Gems” Is Another Excellent, Yet Very Different Crime Thriller
Julia Fox has a supporting role in No Sudden Move as mob wife/Ronald’s mistress Vanessa Capelli. It’s a role she surely earned in part thanks to her part in Uncut Gems. Directed by the Safdie brothers, Uncut Gems stars Adam Sandler as gambling-addicted jewel trader Howard; out of his Happy Madison comfort zone, Sandler delivers the performance of his career as a man at the end of the rope he keeps hanging himself with.
Stylistically, the two are different; it’s easy to contrast the handheld, close-up mania of Uncut Gems with the wide-angle fish lenses of No Sudden Move. The tones also diverge; Uncut Gems as frantic as a panic attack, No Sudden Move coolly competent. The one thing in common? Quality.
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