New Pollution #6: And Das Kapital of Nebraska is Lincoln!
𝘕𝘰 𝘚𝘶𝘥𝘥𝘦𝘯 𝘔𝘰𝘷𝘦
I’ve seen Soderbergh pegged as a cynic (yo, J.Ro!), though his ’50s-era, Motor City-set crime thriller, No Sudden Move, is more proof to me that he cares for little beyond a good day’s work on set. He’s in lark mode here, with a nifty script by Ed Solomon and an indie-starry cast that’s fully in line with their director’s cock-eyed point of view. More fish-eyed, really, the entirety of No Sudden Move being shot with an anamorphic lens that frequently makes the image look as if it’s been stretched like Silly Putty across a glass orb, the edges of the frame severely compressed, the center on the verge of distorting outward Busta Rhymes style. There’s precedence for this in the films, noir and otherwise, to which Soderbergh is paying homage (the old-timey Warner Bros. logo at the start is another tip of the backward-facing cap). But Soderbergh expectedly takes things to an idiosyncratically fetishistic extreme. The tech is what interests him most.
I often think about Soderbergh’s long-ago remark that John Huston’s career arc is the gold standard to which he aspires. I believe he said that early in his post-2000 phase, right around the time he began pseudonymously shooting and editing all his work himself as, respectively, Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard. The Huston comparison tracks to a point, though mostly if you can imagine, par exemple, the oddball sepia tint of Reflections in a Golden Eye as a muse-like driving force, rather than some much larger motivation (such as, say, Huston’s wide-ranging approach to theme/subject, which Soderbergh superficially mimics at best).
Most every element in Soderbergh’s output extends from some pin-precise technological nucleus. I swear that the madhouse thriller Unsane is, at heart, all about the striking shade of blue captured in several scenes by Soderbergh’s tricked-out iPhone camera. He’s a micro-mechanistic obsessive with little in the way of macro-philosophic belief. If the films tend toward a jaundiced view of humanity, that’s more a residual effect of his scenarists (Solomon and Scott Z. Burns and Lem Dobbs, especially), who exhibit their bleak outlooks, in word and occasionally in deed (tune in to Dobbs’ prickly audio commentary on The Limey for a top-tier example), with above-it-all pride.
No Sudden Move is about a guy taking the long way ’round to a we-live-in-a-society-prescribed endpoint. For a few hours felonious work — procuring a MacGuffinish set of documents that could make or break the Big Three Detroit automakers — ex-con Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) is promised a certain amount of cash that he does ultimately collect. But when the initial plan goes awry, he and his inconvenient partner, Ronald Russo (Benicio Del Toro), attempt to turn the wheels of capitalism to their advantage and walk away much more flush, even if it goes against what one particularly repellent character describes in a late, probably too-on-the-nose, but still pretty funny scene as “class” and “caste.”
The film’s got plenty of ideas that you’ve heard before. (All it needs is Mark Ruffalo popping in to scream, “The system is rigged!”) Yet it’s Soderbergh’s relative indifference to the Meaning Of It All™ that allows the anti-plutocratic themes to hit in a pleasingly evanescent way. This is a tonic after the faux-Brechtian excesses of The Laundromat (an angry movie without a modicum of genuine rage) and the unevenly executed lit-world gamesmanship of Let Them All Talk, even if the moral is no less glib: Free-market bad! Not much good!
What lands are the actors, because, in addition to their evident comfort with Soderbergh’s run-and-gun practicality as a filmmaker, they’re all perfectly attuned to the rot and ruin in Solomon’s screenplay. It’s there in Cheadle’s raspy voice, in Del Toro’s exhausted body language, in the meta-textual sight of Brendan Fraser, as the double-crosser who hires Goynes, far from his pretty boy prime. The best sequence involves Goynes going to collect a suitcase from an old belle, because it hints at a tragically lost bit of life that’s far removed from the cog-in-a-machine noir plot (Cheadle’s scene partners, Wallace Bridges and Lauren LaStrada, match his each and every dispirited gesture). I was also taken with a tossed-off bit of Sapphic suggestiveness between not-so-doting housewives Amy Seimetz and Katherine Banks; those moments when Soderbergh allows hints of emotion into his detached world tend to be his strongest. And Bill Duke, as a knows-how-the-game-is-played Black mafioso, is agreeably (and correctly) treated as God.