With the glorious "Haywire" hitting theaters today, it seemed only fitting to further shout the sweetness of Soderbergh...welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! Yes, "sex, lies, and videotape" was game changing and "Traffic" was ever so dramatic, but there’s one film that seems to take the backburner on the Soderbergh stove, so we’re gonna turn up the heat! It’s his fourth and most savvy flick about a guy coming home to settle some old business. (And yes, sex and violence ensue!) We’re talking about the highly underrated 1995 little noir ditty..."The Underneath."
Michael Chambers is a man running from his past. With his affinity for gambling and myriad of lady problems galore, he eventually split town in search of a way out. But with his mother soon to be married, the weary Michael heads back home and is finally forced to deal with his past head on. Most of all he seeks to win back the love of his ex-wife Rachel, who had to deal with the mess he left behind. In the process he makes even more key mistakes and with no way out decides that his new payroll armored car job might be the ticket out.
If any of the above plot sounds familiar, it’s because the story is based on the 1949 black and white film "Criss Cross." But what the film borrows in terms of story, Soderbergh and company make up for in every other areas - beginning with a sizzling style. "The Underneath" was the first Soderbergh film to utilize his now known past and present time jumping storytelling device and thankfully here it serves to only enhance the experience. (In "The Limey" it ruined the whole damn film for me!) Like a craftsman wielding a story sword, Soderbergh slickly lays out the facts in a cunning order that even still manages to keep the audience guessing. Plus his visual style is a cross between the funky stuff in Kafka mixed with a Kubrick color palate with colors seemingly representing emotions – it’s pretty thoughtful and groundbreaking stuff.
His cast, which includes early William Fichtner, Joe Don Baker, Shelley Duvall, Elisabeth Shue and especially the luscious Alison Elliott as the femme fatale wife, does wonders with the material no doubt. But the single standout stuff here has to go to leading man and former sex, lies, and videotape co-star Peter ‘family crisis’ Gallagher, who carries this movie like a pro. I was so utterly blown away by his work here, that I was seriously surprised when he didn't become a much bigger box office draw. More charming then Clooney, twice the humanity of Hanks and a unique mix of Carey Grant with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gallagher is the glorious glue that holds The Underneath together – his best work period.
Sadly, Gallagher and Soderbergh never teamed up again, with the latter taking a creative step down by enrolling in the Clooney school of leading man films (and using the very same Underneath style in almost every damn movie after that!) and it’s such a shame. Working together in both "sex, lies, and videotape" and especially "The Underneath" brought out the best in both men – plus notice it didn't require a name to accomplish five-star greatness. Take heed Steven - big stars, big budgets and Hollywood friends may seem cool on the surface, but it’s sometimes what’s underneath that’s most remembered where it counts.
Title: "The Underneath"
Genre: Crime Drama/Thriller/Mystery
Cast: Peter Gallagher, Alison Elliott, Elisabeth Shue
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Company: Gramercy Pictures