Steven Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move contradicts its own title by showing up out of nowhere all of a sudden, with an ensemble cast for the ages, a snazzy 50’s production design vibe and one of those deliriously convoluted marble maze narratives where things make just as much sense as they don’t. The film is honestly a lot more low key, subdued and laconic than you might expect from all of these moving parts, let’s more Out Of Sight than Ocean’s 11, more burnished, modest caper games than ritzy, tongue in cheek sizzle. Don Cheadle plays an aimless Detroit ex-con who is hired by a shady mob figure (Brendan Fraser) to babysit the family of a twitchy executive (David Harbour) while he retrieves something of great McGuffin-esque importance from a safe at his work. Alongside him are two less level headed operatives played by a greasy Benicio Del Toro and Rory Culkin, who collectively escalate the proceedings into a dangerous powder keg of betrayals, backstabbing and hopeless incompetence. Others orbit their situation including Ray Liotta as an appropriately volatile mobster, Julia Fox as his philandering wife, Jon Hamm as a keen federal agent, Amy Seimetz as Harbour’s stressed out wife, Bill Duke as an all powerful underworld kingpin and a sly cameo from an A lister (that I won’t spoil) as a cheerfully corrupt automobile industry magnate. The cast are all exceptional with everyone really keeping it on a low, laconic burn save for perhaps Liotta who has to get fired up at least once in every movie per his contract and Harbour who is cast pricelessly against type as a spineless fuck up. The narrative is a shifting puzzle box that requires adderall level attentiveness to fully absorb which I wasn’t giving it and as such was a bit fuzzy on some of the particulars but it was nonetheless lots of fun to watch these quaint, colourful characters mosey around old Detroit and have some good old fashioned noir fun.
There are some films that just aren’t for everybody, and seem to have even been fashioned to deliberately repel a certain demographic, as if to weed out those unwilling to take a trip down the weird end of the street and serve as a litmus test to determine who will stand-fast. Folks like John Waters, Todd Solondz and Lars Von Trier are prime examples of artists who traffic in such cheerfully provocative, knowingly inflammatory ventures and now Rick Alverson is well on his way with an eerie, uncomfortably abstract mood piece called Entertainment that I saw a long time ago and recently caught up with, and let me tell you it’s just as fucking bizarre as I remember. Alverson wrote this alongside Tim Heidecker himself and their buddy actor Gregg Turkington, who graduated with honours from the proverbial Tim & Eric Theatre Of Shock & Awe and works frequently with the two, so his badge of bizarre was squarely pinned to his chest before churning out this relentlessly off-putting curio of dust-bowl doldrums, against type cameos, agonizing awkwardness, surreal dreamscapes and nightmarish atmosphere. The film follows pitiful nebbish ‘The Comedian’ (Turkington), a would be standup comic with no audience on a tour to nowhere somewhere in the desolate American southwest. His jokes are excruciatingly cringe, his onstage personality is a grating head-scratcher, his doubting manager (John C. Reilly in a hilariously deadpan cameo) subtly begs him to tone the weirdness down, and just overall this guy’s life seems like a dead end that’s swiftly leading to a deader end. His one respite and glimmer of hope is infrequent phones calls where he leaves forlorn voicemails to an estranged daughter that we never see, perhaps because she never existed at all and it’s his last ounce of conviction to cry for help into an abysmal void. He runs into many characters along the way played by the likes of Heidecker himself, Dean Stockwell, Tye Sheridan, Amy Seimetz and Michael Cera as an impossibly creepy dude that he has an icky run-in with in a men’s bathroom. Many will find this to be a frustrating, confounding, empty, disquieting experience and that’s fine, I would be worried if *everyone* liked it. I admit that this particular flavour of weird isn’t typically my bag and that chunks of it were lost on me, like his interminable bouts of caustic and repulsive verbal digression on the standup stage. However, when the perception and focus shifts over to his ponderous meanderings in the Mojave desert and the incredibly effective, soul shaking original score by Robert Donne I got a real sense of this character’s waywardness, disconnect from everything around him and complete, utter loneliness, and on that front I was able to connect with the film. It’s unique, it’s weird, it’s darkly funny in a sort of brittle, curdled way and uses illogical, jagged sensibilities to explore an artist whose work alienates and humiliates him. You will either vibe with this intensely or be wholly turned off, there’s no real middle-ground.
What if you were sure, beyond a reasonable doubt, that your neighbour or someone living close to you in the area was in fact a dangerous war criminal who committed unspeakable atrocities towards you in the past and, like you, has escaped the fog of war to start a new life? Noomi Rapace’s Maja faces this dilemma in The Secrets We Keep, a deeply emotional, unbearably suspenseful dramatic thriller that showcases the actress at the most raw and vulnerable I’ve ever seen her, and if you’re familiar with her work at all you’ll know that’s saying a lot. Maja is a Romani girl from a small town whose entire family was abused, violently assaulted and terrorized by a marauding band of German SS officers on their way to escape from Bucharest sometime near the end of the war. She alone made it out, and went on to start a new life in postwar United States, where she meets a husband (Chris Messina) and has a child. But wounds of the past don’t heal too easily, especially when she notices Swiss newcomer to the town Thomas (Joel Kinnaman), who she instantly recognizes and believes to be one of the officers who brutalized her fifteen years ago. She kidnaps him, keeps him in her basement and pulls her skeptic husband into a deadly, highly emotional interrogation game as she tries to get Thomas to admit who he is, which he simply won’t do. Does she have the right man? Is Thomas really this person or has her trauma clouded judgment and altered her personal reality into projecting onto someone innocent? Things get complicated when Thomas’s wife (Amy Seimetz) comes looking for him and the whole situation threatens to blow up in everyone’s face. This is a thriller for sure and there are some moments of tension so extreme that I forgot to breathe, but at its core this is a story about how the psychological scars of war never really heal, and through Rapace’s staggeringly good, heartbreakingly intense performance that theme comes across achingly clear. They live in one of those idyllic, Shangri-La 1950’s postwar neighbourhoods you’d see in something like Malick’s Tree Of Life, made of picket fences, pastel houses, tranquil evenings, children playing on the streets and air drying laundry billowing in the breeze like angel wings keeping sentinel watch on the inhabitants. But not even angels, allegorical or otherwise, can eradicate the devils present during a war, or even cause those affected by it to forget what happened to them and the trauma always, always follows them home in one way or another. Its a terrific guessing game, a visceral captivity thriller and and an affecting interpersonal drama but for me it works most effectively as a harrowing character study of one girl, the memories that won’t die and her struggle to live some semblance of a normal life after enduring unimaginable horror. Great film with an absolutely beautiful, diamond knockout performance from Noomi.