Review: Underneath (1995)

I have enough trust issues as it is, this movie certainly isn’t going to help them any!

Screenplay By: Daniel Fuchs & Steven Soderbergh
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

I no longer feel on the outside looking in when it comes to Steven Soderbergh. The days of reading praise for him and proclaiming that I had yet to see the big deal are long past. I have taken the plunge into the deep end of Soderbergh, the more of his work I discover the more I like him as a filmmaker. Underneath is a great example, a film that in the hands of any other director wouldn’t be anywhere near the same or as engaging in my eyes. I don’t quite know what it is about Soderbergh yet, but in each of his films he draws me in, deeper and deeper into the worlds that he is creating. I’m so deep by this point that I don’t think I can ever get out, and that isn’t a bad thing.

I have never seen Criss Cross, the film Underneath is a remake of, so the complaints that it was unnecessary for Soderbergh to remake that film fall on deaf ears as far as I am concerned. Underneath is a noir, yet it is a very different type of noir, one that is more concerned with feel and hue than it is with drama or heist. It gives each of those elements a fair shake, but with each passing second it becomes clear that Underneath isn’t quite your regular noir. In that way I can already tell that any comparisons to Criss Cross, or complaints involving Underneath being a remake, wouldn’t have much of an effect on me. Underneath is Soderbergh’s film, it is indelibly marked with his hand and his flare.

Another way that Soderbergh dips his hand into making Underneath his own type of noir is the way he frames his actors in location shooting. I don’t know if Underneath was filmed in Texas, but it feels like it was filmed in Texas. The combination of Soderbergh’s color palette shading and use of different hues with the various locales adds a particular texture to the film. For lack of a better phrasing Underneath has a certain grainy feel to it, these people have been through these worn paces before, they know how this will turn out yet in true noir fashion they convince themselves it will all be different this time. That grainy ambiance in a lot of ways is what makes Underneath the great film that it is, that’s not to detract from any of the other elements of the film, but Underneath is a very artsy film and it never hides that fact.

If I had one wish about Underneath it would be for the characters to have a little more weight behind them. I think that Soderbergh was going for more of an artsy image movie over a substance based one, but I liked these characters and would have loved to get to know them more. Especially William Fichtner’s Tommy, if only for the fact that anytime Fichtner is given more than a tiny amount of screen time I am a very happy panda. I’m also still not sure about the scenes with Michael in the hospital, something about the way that entire sequence was shot, until he breaks from third person view, didn’t work for me. But, I’m still processing that bit, and I may end up coming around on it.

I look back at how I spent my 90’s independent movie watching and I can’t help but shake my head in mild disgust. I wasted so many years trying to see what others saw in Quentin Tarantino and while my brain was being inundated with mediocrity Steven Soderbergh was out there just waiting to blow said brain. It’s a frivolous complaint, but it does annoy me, instead of watching Pulp Fiction and cringing throughout I could have been watching films like Underneath and marveling at the directorial prowess on display. When all is said and done it doesn’t matter when I discovered Soderbergh and his bevy of wonderful films, it only matters that I did discover him and continue to discover his work. Underneath is another fine film from Soderbergh, one that I am sure many of his legions of fans enjoy just as much as I do, maybe even a little bit more. If you’re looking for a bit of a different noir, or you want to discover why there’s so much hubbub around Steven Soderbergh Underneath isn’t a bad film to take the time to watch, you may even find yourself falling headfirst into the deep end of the Soderbergh pool when you finish it.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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