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Ex-con and recovered gambler Michael Chambers returns home to Austin, Texas
to attend his mother's wedding. He looks up the girlfriend that he walked
out on many years prior, immediately causing problems with her
criminally-inclined boyfriend. When his new father-in-law helps him get set
up with a job driving an armoured car, things begin to look better for
Michael but his desire for Rachel remains, sparking a cycle of events that
run out of his control.
Working almost like a test bed for things he would do better later on, this film allowed the director to try various techniques and styles that didn't really work for him in this case. The plot unfolds in three different time periods are the same time, we are helped out by Michael having a beard in the earliest time periods. The point of these was to create a history for the characters and help keep the interest as we went by not knowing the past until it is significant (a trick he did again in Out of Sight). However here the characters are painted so flat that it's hard to notice any difference in them between the time periods. Also the actual past is quite straightforward and sheds light on nothing of real significance. This stalls the film for the majority and it only really gets going again towards the end, but even that is killed by a series of little twists that culminate in a final shot that simply doesn't make sense and was clearly a cheap way of ending the film on a dramatic note.
The direction is OK but perhaps a little heavy on the style. Constant shots through coloured glass makes it all look very clever but it doesn't add anything. At first I thought it was to help distinguish time period (all the armoured car stuff looks green) but then I realised he was just doing it when the mood took him. In Traffic, the emphasis on colour worked well between the three stories but here it just feels like a director trying too hard.
Gallagher is an OK actor but can't do much here to shed light on the character. We know that Michael is blessed with poor judgement but beyond that he is a mystery that even Gallagher seems incapable of getting in touch with. Elliot is pretty but also a flat character. The support cast is interesting as it has plenty of well known faces including Fichtner, Dooley, Baker and Shue but really the weakness at the top is the problem here.
Overall this is watchable despite it being a little slow and too stylish for it's own good. The overriding impression I got from watching it was that Soderbergh was trying out some ideas to work out what the weaknesses with them were. Add to this a quite straightforward story that is told in three timelines for no discernible benefit to the film and then a cheap series of dramatics when all else fails and you've got a film that doesn't tend to get mentioned in the same breath as his more recent hits.
I saw this film as a part of a school course on film appreciation, focusing
mostly on film-noir. It built slowly with a fascinating story, and honestly
I was intrigued by many of the sequences especially the scene where the main
character watches the football game and the rendezvous under the bridge.
I was also interested in all of the supporting characters like elizabeth shue's role and the smarmy brother.
The action toward the end built up to a climax that would bring it all together. And, the most I could say for the climax was that it did. But it also spiraled into a conventional, predictable, and altogether disappointing ending. I walked away unhappy with the whole experience.
This was the first time I was disappointed with Soderbergh's work, so for a more satisfying experience, in a similar genre, see The Limey.
With two sets of flashbacks, count them two sets of flashbacks
interspersed throughout the movie the last one catching up to where the
movie begins in the present, it just makes a garbled mess. Kind of like
the last sentence.
I like Peter Gallagher and Elizabeth Shue, but she had such a small role and he couldn't save the convoluted mess that movie just seems to be told out of sequence like it is.
The cinematography is nice if that's any consolation! I bought my copy at Walmart for $5.50 and I can't honestly say I'll ever watch it again. I can't recommend it, but I won't condemn it either.
A complex character study with a twisty-turny plot and more double-crosses
than one can comfortably shake a stick at, "The Underneath" is definitely
one of Steven Soderbergh's more complex films. He pulls out all the stops,
using split lenses (particularly during one bravura dinner sequence),
different color film stocks, imaginative framing devices -- you name it.
Sure, one might complain that the result is cold and calculating, but I'm
not that one.
Fans of Soderbergh's "Schizopolis" will recognize Mike Malone (T. Azimuth Schwitters) as the guy who attempts to hit on Allison Elliott in the club and is rebuffed, and David Jensen (Elmo Oxygen) as the satellite dish installer. ("Just don't stand in front of it.") And Joe Chrest -- so memorable as Ben the bellhop in "King of the Hill" -- is great as the mysterious Mr. Rodman.
Not really noir, as it is in color, so we can call it neo noir and be
done with that.
Michael (Peter Gallagher), the prodigal son, returns home for his mom's wedding after being exiled for some past trouble. The flashbacks throughout the movie show us what happened, but it really doesn't matter.
What matters is the fact that he takes up again with his old flame, Rachel (Alison Elliott), who is now married to a local hood (William Fichtner), a fact she neglected to tell him.
To get out of trouble with the hood, he agrees to do an armored car robbery. His own brother (Adam Trese) suspects him.
One of director Steven Soderbergh's early works, it will not blow you away, but it will entertain you.
I suspect the ending will leave you furious.
Steven Soderbergh always has interesting things to say about small
Texas towns and the film The Underneath is one of his more interesting
and articulate. Peter Gallagher stars as Michael Chambers, a gambler
who returns to his small rural town for his mother's nuptials. While in
town he tries to reignite an old flame with his ex-girlfriend, Rachel,
but this leads to more problems than she's worth. Michael finds himself
in a dangerous situation when Rachel's fiancée, Tommy, played by the
hugely underrated William Fichtner, finds out about Michael. The
Underneath has all of that familiar indie Soderbergh feel that is
complete with suspense, mystery, ambiguity, and characters whose
personal issues go far and beyond what the normal person living the
normal life is used to.
The Underneath is a slow moving film that starts out seeming fairly pointless at first. But as it develops it grows more and more interesting. The noir-ish atmosphere combined with Soderbergh's tense cinematic style keeps this film quietly engaging. For a while it feels like a film that doesn't have much purpose and seems to be pretty straightforward. The first half of the film follows Michael as he tries to rebuild his relationships with all the people he abandoned years ago when he lost a substantial amount of money while betting. He tries to rekindle his love with Rachel, tries to make his mother happy with him again, and tries to keep his brother from hating him. The first half of the film holds no surprises but raises interesting questions and keeps you around waiting for more.
Then comes the second half of The Underneath where things really kick off and it shapes into the film that it had set out to be from the opening suspenseful tone. The mystery builds and we become innately fascinated by what is going on. The plot twists and turns right up to the very last shot which throws the entire story for a loop. It's great filmmaking and excellently engaging storytelling on an intriguingly small scale. There's nothing flashy about The Underneath, but that's what one should expect from Soderbergh.
I wouldn't say that this is a film for everybody, but fans of Soderbergh would be foolish not to check it out. It's a film with a great story, a compelling atmosphere, an consistently suspenseful tone, a good script, and decent acting. I don't know that there's much more that I could want from this fine little film.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Steven Soderbergh has made his share of good and bad movies.
"Erin Brockovich," "The Limey," "Traffic," and "Sex, Lies and
Videotape" qualify as classics. On the other hand, the popular
"Ocean's" trilogy, "Full Frontal," and "The Informant" lay at the
bottom of the scrap heap. Mind you, Soderbergh has made several
in-between movies that are neither memorable nor excruciating. The
sci-fi saga "Solaris," the Elmore Leonard crime thriller "Out of
Sight," and the surreal European art flick "Kafka" are his in-between
movies. Essentially, they are above-average but flawed. The same can be
said for "The Underneath." The most palpable theme in "The Underneath"
is taking responsibility for one's actions, something that the
protagonist has a problem with in his relationship with his family, his
girlfriend and chief villain. Ultimately, Soderbergh draws us into the
story with his surreal staging of the action so that "The Underneath"
resembles an art movie.
This remake of director Curt Siodmak's "Criss-Cross" (1949) with Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, and Stephen McNally comes up short of several accounts. First, "The Underneath" lacks the star wattage of the 1949 original. Second, Soderbergh doesn't handle the film noir half as well as Siodmak did. In "Criss-Cross," we knew all the characters were doomed, but they were sympathetic. In "The Underneath," the Peter Gallagher protagonist is not only unsympathetic but he also lacks credibility as a character. Alison Elliot doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what Yvonne De Carlo conjured up with her character, and William Fichtner cannot hold a candle to slimy Dan Duryea. Scenarist Sam Lowry (a.k.a. Soderbergh himself) and Daniel Fuchs have changed several things, but they remain largely faithful to the original, except that the Stephen McNally cop who was the hero's friend has been turned into the hero's brother with a gay subtext. Rather than striving to save his brother from himself, the hero's brother wants to do everything that he can to bring down the hero. Nevertheless, "The Underneath" still amounts to an above-average opus, with a neat twist of an ending that salvages this muddled but entertaining heist picture.
Peter Gallagher plays never-do-well Michael Chambers. He has come back to his hometown, Austin, Texas, that he left an unspecified number of years ago. At one point, he says that he worked in the oil field. Principally, Michael left town because he owed too many gambler debts. Eventually, Michael squares himself with the people that he owed money to and he returns to find that his girlfriend Rachel (sexy Alison Elliot of "The Spitfire Grill") has taken up with a night club owner and small-time hoodlum, William Fichtner of "Armageddon") who is green-eyed with jealousy about Rachel and Michael. Meantime, Michael has come home ostensibly to attend his mother's wedding. Mrs. Chambers (Anjanette Comer of "Rabbit, Run) is scheduled to wed Ed Dutton (Paul Dooley of "Death Wish") and Michael's brother David Chambers (a mustached Adam Trese of "Laws of Gravity") hates his brother because he is selfish. Moreover, he doesn't like the idea that Michael is decked out in one of his dead father's outfits for the wedding. Rachel isn't exactly overwhelmed to see Michael, too. She hated the way that he disappeared and everybody went to her looking for answers. Initially, Michael doesn't plan to stick around long, but his new stepfather arranges for him to interview for a job at an armored car business where he works. The owner of the armored car company, Clay Hinkle (Joe Don Baker of "Walking Tall"), likes Michael and hires him.
Michael is taken by surprise after he goes to work for the armored car company when Rachel vanishes and returns with a ring on her finger and Tommy Dundee as her new husband. Dundee is a volatile sort of fellow and he doesn't like it that Rachel is hanging around Michael. Michael makes Tommy an offer that Tommy cannot refuse. They are going to knock over an armored car and Michael plans to be at the wheel when this happens. Tommy makes arrangements for an unknown, mysterious figure to provide the men. This source demands 20 per cent of the haul, but Michael informs Tommy that he will receive his share and the others can fight over the rest. Whereas the raid on the armored car in "Criss-Cross" occurred in broad daylight in a parking lot, Soderbergh and his writer orchestrate the action in a basement in the bank. During the hold-up, Michael is wounded but he thwarts the villain. Basically, after he gave a van load of hoodlums the access code to enter the underground facility, Michael runs into Susan (Elizabeth Shue of "Adventures in Babysitting) in the basement as the crime is about to take place and shoots it out with a group of thugs who rode a white van into the basement. Michael is wounded terribly, but he manages to survive. Moreover, the owner of the company praises him as a hero and plans to put a story about his exploits into the company's magazine.
Soderbergh cuts back and forth between the pastMichael as a gambler with a beard, the presentMichael as a security guard for the armored car company. The hospital scene exemplifies Soderbergh's knack of artsy cinema. Further, Soderbergh doesn't develop the atmosphere of the setting here as interestingly as Siodmak did in the original. Initially, everybody talks to Michael, but we cannot see Michael until later. Soderbergh has altered the film noir heritage of "The Underneath" so that fate doesn't destroy basically misguided people. Peter Gallagher is good as Michael, but he is no Burt Lancaster. At one point, another characterhis wholly suspicious and unlikeable brother-- compares Michael to a woman because he has tried to skate through life with other people doing the work for him. The predictable part of the movie is the heist itself and the moral is clear: crime does not play.
"The Underneath" is more provocative than good.
"The Underneath" tells of a man of dubious character who returns to his home to a less than warm reception and becomes involved in a web of intrigue with money and a woman at the center. This film is good technically and artistically. Good but not great. And there the goodness ends. We're fed bits and pieces of a story involving the elements of corruption, jealously, conspiracy, robbery, murder, betrayal, and more. However, the characters are so superficial and mechanical and the film so clinical and rigid we're left to idle disengaged voyeurism. With no emotional involvement we, the audience, have nothing at stake, have invested nothing in the characters, and don't care how it ends. We're just glad it's over. (C+)
Soderbergh's showoffy stylistics (color filters, flashbacks, first-person point-of-view shots) try - and mostly fail - to "spice up" a cliched and insignificant plot. Don't bother looking for anything fresh in this movie, it's the same old drifter-back-to-his-hometown / femme fatale / dangerous husband / heist-gone-wrong / last-minute-betrayal storyline. Peter Gallagher's detached, almost catatonic approach seriously affects the movie, but Alison Elliott shines playing the most complex by far character in the film and William Fichtner impresses even in his completely stereotypical bad-guy role. (**1/2)
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