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Michael Chambers returns home to celebrate his mother's marriage. Michael had been ousted from his home town due to his gambling indiscretions and had left his wife to deal with the mess he created. He now must reassimilate back into the town, renew his relationships with his family and friends (and enemies) and, most of all, seek out his ex-wife to woo her again. In the process, he obtains a job working with his mother's new husband as an armored car driver. He almost seems the perfect prodigal son as he finds his niche back in the community and his way back into his ex's heart. His troubles surmount when he and his wife are caught in the act by her hoodlum boyfriend/fiancé. To get out of this predicament, Michael must concoct a plan to heist of a payroll being carried by his armored car company. Written by
Joel Schesser <firstname.lastname@example.org>
These days, Stephen Soderbergh has a reputation as a director capable of pleasing arthouse critics and mainstream fans alike. Personally, I'm unconvinced of his claims to greatness even now; but it's certainly clear, whatever its absolute merits, how "Underneath", which dates from 1995, is lacking in slickness compared with the director's subsequent works, which it nonetheless resembles in form if not in competence.
Basically, this is a bank-heist thriller, but shot in a very tricksy style. To list a few of the devices employed, we get colour-filtered lenses, flashbacks (confusing because the main character has a big grey beard in the chronologically earliest scenes, and thus looks younger when supposed to be older), disjunctions of speech and image (used more successfully four years later by Soderbergh in "The Limey"), edgy-camera work, contrived (though sometimes powerful) scene-framing, and the pseudo-documentary time stamps that flash up on screen almost at random. In fact, it's less of a mess than the length of this list suggests; but it never seems natural. The viewer always feels that he is being set up. What is not clear is why.
The real problem is that it is very hard to care about any of the characters. Soderbergh hints at motivation, but fails to follow through. One could argue that the film is trying to be intelligent, leaving the viewer to fill in the gaps. The problem here is not that this is difficult (except at the very end) but that it happens too often - there's more gap than substance, the script plays with itself instead of fleshing out. With no real insight into human nature here, the end result is not so much bleak as pointless.
There are many worse, more stupid films than this. But trying to be clever does not in itself make a great movie. These days Soderbergh does clever without trying. Whether that makes his recent work better, or simply better-disguised, is an interesting question.
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