No Sudden Move would fit right in with a classic Hollywood noir marathon. Out of director Steven Soderbergh‘s diverse filmography, it’s most reminiscent of his movie The Good German in its intent. Together, the filmmaker and screenwriter Ed Solomon sought to capture a visual language rarely seen anymore. Benicio del Toro‘s Ronald Russo and Don Cheadle‘s Curt Goynes could pop in a ’50s noir and never look or sound out of place.
From the patience of the camerawork to the characters who are often as mysterious as the plot to the crackling dialogue, it’s a wonderful homage. It’s also, like many rewarding noirs, a well-put-together towering deck of cards. Seeing how it all comes together is a part of the fun, especially for Solomon, who embraces, not fights, how a story evolves.
The screenwriter, perhaps best known for Men in Black and the Bill & Ted films, previously worked with Soderbergh on HBO’s Mosaic. The two started to kick around ideas for a crime picture akin to the Ocean’s 11 trilogy, but No Sudden Move was the end result. We sat down with Solomon, who told us how the film grew into what it ultimately became.
This movie calls to mind noirs like The Killing, The Killers, or I Wake Up Screaming. Did you and Steven Soderbergh talk a lot about how to capture the cinematic language of old crime noirs?
100%. We watched, or I should say, I watched the old films. I would say we’re on the giants’ shoulders that I was going to attempt to hopefully stand on. We watched Point Blank and Get Carter and Rififi, I mean, just a ton of films, like Desperate Hours. There was one that we watched, the one that I watched, he was like, “If only you could see this. There’s this black and white Japanese film from 1962, which is not available anywhere. I’ve been trying to find it. It’s called Black Test Car.” By the way, it’s now available.
Oh, great. How was it?
It was really interesting. It was very dated in my mind. But again, that was about car companies competing. But what was funny about that experience was I was like, “Well, I’m going to Google it and see if I can find it anywhere.” I found it had been posted on YouTube three hours earlier by somebody, the whole movie. I watched it, and then I texted him, like, “Dude, the movie is available. It’s on YouTube right now.” Then he’s like, “I can’t find it.” And then I went back on. It had been pulled down.
So for whatever reason, the movie gods went, “We’re going to let you see this, Ed, for tonight, but then we’re taking it away.” But for the most part, you’re totally right, not just about the sort of stylistic language, but Steven even shot it with Kowa anamorphic lenses applied on top of the red digital camera. He actually used lenses from the ’50s. He had lenses from that exact era that the film was taking place.
It’s in the directorial, let’s call it lexicon, of shot lexicon, or whatever you would call it, visual style. But also in terms of what we were trying on a story level. Although I’ll confess, the story I thought I was writing is a lot leaner than the story I ended up writing, but that was just a product of so many great actors and continually adding texture and context to them, that was irresistible to us.
Like Get Carter or Point Blank, you can end on a downer for some characters, too.
Yes. We not only talked about that. My rough draft was much bleaker. It is weirdly a spoiler, so we have to be a little careful because I want people to wonder about the fate of the characters. Your assessment of what the roots were is exactly accurate, and even the fact that it had a much bleaker ending is exactly accurate.
What happens is movies evolve, as you’re writing them, and as you’re shooting them, and as you’re editing them. As I was probably three-quarters of the way through the script, it started to feel like that thing I initially was going for, which was a much darker, much bleaker kind of experience, no longer felt valid for the film.
I felt like we were all inside the characters a little bit too much. And it would have been, I think, unfair to the audience, almost like we were making a narrative contract with the audience that you’re in good hands here. And to have it end as bleakly as we were originally thinking felt like it would almost be a negation of that arrangement in a weird way, because all films, I think are a conversation. It’s a one-way conversation, but it’s a conversation with the viewer. I think that the viewer has to feel like they’re in good hands from beginning to end.
I know you did some rewriting when roles were cast. With Benicio del Toro and Don Cheadle, how did their casting influence how you rewrote those characters?
So going back to the thing I was saying before, you have a concept, this is the type of movie I’m going to write. You start out running. That concept evolves. You start moving from outline to dialogue. The outline evolves. Underneath the dialogue, the outline is already evolving. And by outline, I should say more like the spine or the central core of the story is evolving.
The first big inflection point after you’re finished the script is when it’s cast and the actors have notes. That’s a pretty direct inflection point. It’s a pretty overt inflection point. But really, and it’s easy to assess what those changes are going to be because you’re hearing notes verbally, or in writing, but given to you in a specific little period of time. And then you execute another draft. It’s a tricky part.
A lot of writers hurt themselves by not being open to this part when the film gets up on its feet and starts moving, it really starts to evolve. And you have a choice as a writer, either fight it, which is never a winning scenario, never, or pay close attention to how it’s moving and keep track of that relationship between your original intention and what the movie is now telling you it wants to be. And your job is to constantly be aware of how the film is evolving and write toward that. That’s why I love to be there every day because the smallest shifts create change.
Maximizing the effect of the changes, and that happens a lot in this film. Benicio brought a vulnerability to the character of Ronald and warmth that necessitated Steven and me looking at scenes that we hadn’t shot yet and making fine-tune adjustments to accommodate for that subtle nuance that Benicio was bringing in, humor that he was bringing in. And then there were those spontaneous moments that add incredible depth. When he was talking to Ray Liotta at the house, for instance.
You know what I’m talking about. He starts to cry. “I would like something permanent,” he says, and God, beautiful moment. Couldn’t have written it, right? Wouldn’t have written it even. It hit, and when he did it on set it just hit me in the gut, but it shaped his whole character in a certain way, by adding a depth that I hadn’t imagined.
The character of Curt played by Don, I always knew he’s ahead of everyone in every scene. I always knew that. He’s the smartest guy in the room in every scene, only meeting his match later. He actually meets his intellectual match in one of the penultimate scenes of the film. But up until then, he’s the smartest player in the room. I always knew that, but Don played the character with a deeper gravitas with more depth than I can imagine. And so, you are just pinching yourself. How did I get so lucky that I get to watch this happen? When Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro rehearse a scene, you’re getting to see it evolve right in front of your eyes. You learn from it and embrace it. It’s just great. It’s such a great experience.
Like a lot of the movies you mentioned earlier, the dialogue here is just so succinct and sharp. How do you accomplish that flow as a writer? Do you read out loud?
I appreciate that very much by the way. Wish I was not the type of person who reads stuff out loud, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve witnessed myself reading a script, gesticulating with my hands, and speaking dialogue out loud. I cannot tell you how many times that happens.
For me, writing is not a cerebral/intellectual exercise enterprise. It’s an emotional one. I cannot write a character until I am deeply and empathically inside, not just their head, but their body. It’s feeling them. And once I’m feeling them, that’s when rhythms emerge. And the rhythms emerge from within those characters, from what I hope is an empathetic place, where I’m just feeling them as a human being, not thinking about them as a human being, but feeling them.
I used to think when I first started out that I would never be a writer who can write the kind of movies that I love to see. No Sudden Move is the kind of movie I will watch when I have a choice of films to watch. This is the type of movie I like to see, but I never knew if anyone would give me a shot to actually write this kind of movie. Then, I did Mosaic with Steven, and I’ve got a drama I worked on with David O. Russell, so I’ve been working a lot more on this type of film in the last decade or so.
What I’ve come to realize is that comedy writing, for lack of a better word, is great training, because it still has the same requirements, the same story requirements. The story has to make sense. The characters have to be truthful. The audience still has to be engaged in wanting to know what happens next. But the metric of success isn’t getting a laugh. The metric of success is something a little less easy to pinpoint.
That’s to me where the difficulty comes in, which is how are we measuring whether this is working or not? With comedy, you got a little leeway. Comedy is harder in certain ways, in that it’s hard to write jokes that other people will find funny. It’s easy to write jokes. The hard part is writing jokes that others find funny. It’s a metric by which you can judge the success or not success. Are people laughing?
Writing something which is not primarily a comedy, the metric is different and a little hard to ascertain. But if you can tap into that and understand if you can tap into that, then you’re in better shape. And what that was on this movie, for me, the dynamic between Don and Benicio’s characters. Interesting and compelling at every moment, that became the metrics.
I know you had similar feelings about the movie you directed, Levity, that it was the kind of drama you enjoyed watching but for a long time, you thought you weren’t capable of making. What ends up giving you the confidence to write these stories, like Levity or No Sudden Move? Is it life experience?
First, life experience plays into everything one writes. The world evolves around us and ahead of us. I think one of the problems a lot of writers can face is if they don’t evolve with the world that’s evolving with them, along with them. What happens is they either get stuck in their patterns as writers, or because writing requires being incredibly vulnerable and often getting rejected, but then having something not succeed, that you can develop all sorts of personal coping mechanisms to not feel that pain of failure. I would argue that those mechanisms are the road to obsolescence as a writer.
Developing a healthier relationship with those feelings is actually the only way to keep evolving, meaning it’s hard to let go of old habits. It’s hard as you get older, as you move through life and become more mature, let’s say, it’s hard to acknowledge that you have just as much to learn at 40 as you did at 20. And you have just as much to learn it 50 as you did at 40. But if you have that attitude going through as a writer, I think your toolkit expands your areas. And most importantly, your areas of interest expand, because it’s really those things, the things that you’re interested in creatively that pull you out of your comfort zone and into that sweet spot, where you’re writing what you want to see as opposed to what you’ve always been comfortable writing.
And usually what I want to see is something I’ve never done before, or I’ve never seen before, I should say. And so specifically, I think working on Mosaic, which was quite a few years and about 600 pages, and it was a linear show as well as a branching show, which meant I had to write a very complex murder story, wherein each character needed to be worthy of having his or her own movie around them, it forced me to develop a set of muscles.
I followed that up with a 586 pages spec. That’s another sort of suspense thriller crime thing. And then in the middle of that, Steven and [producer] Casey Silver came to me and said, “Hey, we’re doing this sort of old school, noir style film.” I was overjoyed to be honest, because I thought, “Hey, this is no longer outside my wheelhouse. This is something that I think if I understand what we’re doing, I might be able to bring something to.” I got really excited.
Now having said all that, and in the context of all that, there was absolutely a moment in this, just like in every other thing I have ever written, where I stopped maybe a quarter of the way in and say, “Oh, God, I don’t know how to do this. I don’t even know how to write at all. Why did I agree to do this? Why am I even a writer? Oh, my God, this is the script that everyone’s going to figure out that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.” That happens on every script. I’m not kidding.
The only difference is, having done it for a long time, I do also have the ability to follow that up and say, ” Ed, don’t forget you feel this every time. You always feel this, and this is that.” And I go, “I know, but this time it’s real.” That’s what my brain tells me. And then my other part of my brain goes, “No, you also always say that. Just stay with this discomfort, stay with it, and it’ll pass, and you’ll figure it out.” Then I went, “Oh, wait, this is about the dynamic between Benicio and Don. It’s about the cat and mouse. I get it. I knew what the movie is.” That did happen.
No Sudden Move is currently in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.
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