Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Peter Gallagher, Alison Elliott, William Fichtner, Adam Trese, Joe Don Baker, Paul Dooley, Elizabeth Shue, Shelley Duvall. (1995)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 28, 1995
The title of this respectable remake of the 1946 film noir thriller Criss Cross is a propos: Had it been a grittier work with baser instincts, The Underbelly would have been a more appropriate name for it. Regardless of what it's called, The Underneath is a diverting piece of moviemaking, thanks primarily to fine direction by Soderbergh, who adeptly manages the narrative's temporal changes -- here, flashbacks critically inform the present -- without losing his audience. Jumping back and forth in cinematic time can be a frustrating business, but here, piecing together the whys and the hows of the film's various deceits and betrayals is worth the frustrations of its nonlinear story line. Essentially an anatomy of a botched armored-car heist, The Underneath is the story of a man (Gallagher, in a solid performance) whose past and present collide, with dire consequences. The film's pivotal scene is breathtaking, a brilliantly conceived triptych in which the criminal act is set in motion to avert the rage of a jealous husband. Soderbergh uses unworldly primary hues to color his film noir, rather than the traditional contrasts in shadows and light. He also relies heavily upon unsettling close-ups, creating an intimacy with characters that doesn't always feel quite right. Moreover, the film's last-minute twist ending unnecessarily undermines the conventions in which it is rooted. (This denouement elicits only a “hmmmm…” rather than any gasp of surprise.) Although it's not perfect, or even near-perfect for that matter, The Underneath nevertheless demonstrates that Soderbergh is, without question, one of today's better filmmakers. That holds true even when he doesn't provoke you like you know he can -- remember a movie entitled sex, lies, and videotape?