The Underneath (1995) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for some violence, language and sexuality
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast: Peter Gallagher, Alison Elliott, William Fichtner, Adam Trese, Joe Don Baker
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Steven Soderbergh, Daniel Fuchs (based on the novel, "Criss Cross" by Don Tracy)

Review published February 13, 2002

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the man responsible for such greats as Sex Lies and Videotape, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich and Traffic, this is one of his earlier works, and falls under the "Hidden Gem" category for you seekers of interesting films collecting dust at your local video store. You probably should dust off this one, as it showcases a writer-director further breaking in his chops with an interesting tale of crime, loyalty and love.  Although modern in its delivery, The Underneath is actually a remake of a film from 1949 called Criss Cross, adapted from a book of the same name by Don Tracy. 

Like Soderbergh's later work, Ocean's Eleven, this is a film revolving around a heist, although The Underneath's tone is much more serious, playing almost nothing for laughs.  Peter Gallagher (The Hudsucker Proxy, Malice) stars as Michael Chambers,  a man who left his girl and hometown due to some overzealous betting, but who has come back to roost after squaring his debts for his mother's marriage.  His stepfather to be gets Michael set up as an armored car driver, and as Michael tries to get his life together again, he also attempts to get his girl back after rehabilitating himself.  However, she has hooked up with the small town's resident crook, and playing around with his main squeeze makes for some hairy situations, and to cover up the affair, Michael concocts a plan to heist his own outfit in an armored vehicle knock-off.

Soderbergh lends the film some stylish touches, some hit and some miss, but once the plot gets underway, it's mostly hit for the rest of the way.  Peter Gallagher puts in a good performance, and the rest of the supporting cast is colorfully written and portrayed.  The film is subtle and relatively slow, but if you invest a little interest, eventually it pays off in the entertainment department.  Like most of Soderbergh's works, it's completely different in tone and theme from anything he has done, and also his vision and talent behind the camera is what ultimately makes the film work.

The Underneath is recommended primarily for fans of Soderbergh looking for some of his less known work, and also for lovers of modern noir dramas.  It's smart, well-made and a worthwhile two hour investment as long as you don't expect an exciting thriller.

Qwipster's rating:

2002 Vince Leo