No Sudden Move

Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro at a phone box

On the principle that second-rate Soderbergh is better than no Soderbergh at all, a warm hello to No Sudden Move, a pastiche 1950s crime drama with a Maguffin that insists it’s more than a Maguffin.

Don Cheadle, Kieran Culkin and Benicio Del Toro play three prickly guys hired to “babysit” a family (ie hold them hostage) while one of them takes Dad Matt (David Harbour) off to pick up something from a safe. That “something” becomes increasingly important as the story progresses, eventually bathing everything in a Chinatown-style glow as it becomes apparent that behind these no-marks is a vast scheme based on corporate corruption of a sort that makes day-to-day Mob activity look silly.

Talking of mobsters, early on we meet Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser), the face who’s hired Curt Goynes (Cheadle), Russo (Del Toro) and Charley (Culkin), but behind him, so the whisper goes, might be Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta) or possibly Aldrick Watkins (Bill Duke), a pair of local mobsters, though there’s also talk of teams moving in from out of town, from Detroit, Chicago or Illinois, or possibly all three. This thing is big, which should make small-fry Curt and crew nervous but doesn’t, because all three of them are hoping for a quick in and out and also because they’re all a bit dim.

Anyhow, what looks like it’s going to be a straight-up family-hostage drama, reinforced by the fact that it’s excellent Amy Seimetz playing the concerned matriarch, becomes something far less straightforward once – big breath – a) it’s established husband/dad Matt has been having an affair with his secretary, b) they were planning on running off to California together, c) the “something” at the husband’s workplace isn’t in the safe, d) one of the gang unexpectedly dies, e) the police arrive, f) the surviving two set about playing one big gangster off against another, hoping to somehow wriggle through the gaps and come out of this morass as wealthier men.

There are more plot turns, a lot more, involving Matt’s shifty boss Mel Forbert (Hugh Maguire), four-square cop Joe Finney (Jon Hamm) and corporate big wheel Mike Lowen (Matt Damon). And as the actual nature of what was meant to have been stolen becomes clear, it’s as if, somewhere in the screenwriter afterlife, Raymond Chandler (the increasingly unfathomable plot) and Robert Towne (the LA-corruption angle) are duking it out for possession of the film’s soul.

Frankie Shaw and David Harbour
Matt gets no comfort from Paula



Here the screenwriter is Ed Solomon, best known for light-hearted larks really, having written Men in Black, Charlie’s Angels and the Bill and Ted movies, but he’s got his pastiche hat firmly screwed on in No Sudden Move, having clearly binge-watched a lot of movies featuring men in hats talking out of the side of their mouths. Some snappy one-liners occasionally move things towards a comedy precipice, especially as it becomes more obvious that our smalltime criminal heroes are incompetent and/or drunk most of the time.

The dead weight of pastiche extends to Steven Soderbergh, who alternates his usual sparkling shooting style with scenes done very dark, often in impressively big interiors full of wood and with ornate ceilings, plus the odd Edward Hopper-inspired exterior shot to emphasise America at its most American, while David Arnold’s score hums along with drums, bongos and double bass picking out a downbeat jazzy vibe.

The best pastiches (like, say, Michel Hazanavicius’s OSS movies starring Jean Dujardin) aren’t just technically accomplished, they re-orient our attitudes to the original material – they have a political agenda.

There’s no such thing going on here. Instead, Soderbergh gives us an accomplished and very cool exercise in style. If you’re in the mood to roll around in one of those, you’ll probably enjoy No Sudden Move more than I did. On top of that, for all the joys of seeing this first-rate cast and laying a small bet on how underused Ray Liotta is going to be (again), there’s a fatal indecision about how comedic things are actually meant to be. It’s like the Three Stooges without jokes.

As for the postscript insisting that the movie has been about a real-life conspiracy driven by a cartel of US car manufacturers, it’s as good as an admission by Soderbergh and Solomon that they’ve failed. Sumptuously.



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© Steve Morrissey 2021







Hotel Rwanda

Nick Nolte and Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

7 April

 

Rwandan genocide starts, 1994

On this day in 1994, a period of mass killing lasting 100 days started in Rwanda, during which around 20% of the country’s population was killed. The violence was organised by the government, targeted against the Tutsi tribe and carried out by members of the Rwandan army, the police, as well as government backed militias and members of the Hutu population. Between 500,000 and a million people were killed, largely by machete, as neighbour turned on neighbour, the Hutus gaining the land of their Tutsi neighbours once they’d murdered them. The grievance of the Hutus against the Tutsis was old and to say they had no cause would be naive. However, the ferocity of the attack was astonishing. As the world stood back and debated whether genocide was in fact occurring, the genocide raged through the country, until it was brought to a halt by the army of Rwandan Patriotic Front (Tutsis) after it toppled the government.

 

 

 

Hotel Rwanda (2004, dir: Terry George)

Films about genocide always risk comparison with Schindler’s List. They also suffer from what you might call the Schindler Problem – how do you serve up mass slaughter as light entertainment? The answer, as Hotel Rwanda proves, is that you create a strong drama first and use the historical detail for authenticity, rather than getting bogged down in the small print. You also need actors who can punch through the worthiness. Don Cheadle in his first big starring role fits the bill perfectly, and there’s no trace of the gorblimey cockney from Ocean’s 11 a couple of years before. Instead Cheadle humanises what might easily have been a saintly cipher – playing Paul Rusesabagina, the decent, methodical Hutu hotel manager saving hundreds of Tutsis from death by machete in his abandoned luxury hotel. Sophie Okonedo plays his Tutsi wife, wondering whether her husband’s charitable actions are going to have personal repercussions. And there’s Nick Nolte, solid as granite as the United Nations peacekeeper who is powerless to stop the bloodshed because he’s only allowed to act in self-defence. It’s the story of people being pushed incrementally towards heroism, not hero-types looking for a situation. Put simply, Hotel Rwanda is a proper film – well acted and well shot, engrossing and inspiring, whether you care a whole heap about dead Rwandans or not the slightest bit at all. And it’s a true story. There really was a hotel, the Hotel des Milles Collines, and a Paul Rusesabagina and a Nolte-like UN guy. True, the film doesn’t explain the background of the genocide, or its full extent. But it isn’t trying to, having gambled that the way to tell a big story is by shining a light on a small but important one.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Don Cheadle’s performance
  • Director Terry George’s eye for shocking telltale detail
  • The great support cast includes Joaquin Phoenix
  • A history lesson compellingly taught

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

Hotel Rwanda – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

The Family Man

Tea Leoni and Nicolas Cage in The Family Man

 

 

On with the florid jumper, down with the heavy meat-based meal and away we go for Christmas. Oh no it isn’t, I hear you shouting. See, you’re getting it. But, inexplicably, when this festive-themed movie was released in the UK on DVD, it was decided that the middle of the summer was the time to do it. Windows, that’s the reason – the scheduling slots decreed by the suits to give the cinemas time to milk the product first, before the home entertainment departments get their hands on the big cash-laden teat. It’s that sort of film too – two sets of concerns vie for a hold on the central character, played by Nicolas Cage. In one, the real reality, he’s the big swinging broker guy who abandoned his girlfriend (Tea Leoni) years before for a job in London. In the other, fantasy, reality he didn’t. After the film does a cute bit of nonsense hocus-pocus stuff, involving Don Cheadle as a taxi driver with a supernatural connection, Cage winds up back where he might have been if he hadn’t taken that London job. Which is with boisterous kids and a slobbery dog and a wife who loves him, a two bit job that allows him to cover the bills with not much over. You know, the way most of us live. Big swinging Cage hates it. But the movie, like a rom-com, has a destination that’s set in stone. We know where Cage is heading and where we’re heading. What sort of a ride is it? Kind of on obverse It’s a Wonderful Life, deliberately so, with director Brett Ratner laying on all sorts of visual cues that Frank Capra is somewhere there in the mix. As for the enjoyment factor – Cage is nice, Leoni is nice, the kids are nice. It’s nice nice nice. Like a Christmas jumper, then – you don’t really want it but it is kind of cosy.

© Steve Morrissey 2001

 

 

The Family Man – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Hotel Rwanda

Nick Nolte and Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda

 

 

In 1994, 800,000-plus Tutsis were butchered by their Hutu neighbours while the West debated whether this was genocide or merely isolated “genocidal acts”– i.e. not serious enough to warrant intervention. A decade on and the conflict is beginning to arrive on cinema screens, and most of the attempts to turn a dark day in human history into screen entertainment are taking the Schindler’s List approach – finding the rare good thing in a sea of bloody mayhem. As has director Terry George in this effectively realised true story about Rwanda’s own “Schindler”, Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who risked his Hutu hide to save upwards of 1,000 Tutsis.

This is an incredibly tense piece of work that understands not just how to craft drama but how to cast a movie – and cast against type. Which is why man of action Nick Nolte is playing a benign but impotent United Nations peacekeeper. Joaquin Phoenix, meanwhile, is effective as the maverick cameraman who first got pictures of the atrocities out. But both stars take a back seat to Don Cheadle as Rusesabagina. Forget completely that dreadful Cockney accent in Ocean’s 11/12 – Cheadle comes up with a complex portrayal of a man who is Hutu by birth, a wheeler-dealer by experience but a humanitarian by nature. And Sophie Okonedo, as his Tutsi wife, looks like she’ll be leaving TV roles and bit parts behind for ever. Mass murder and mass entertainment may not mix, but this is probably as near as any film is going to get.

© Steve Morrissey 2004

 

Hotel Rwanda – at Amazon