The Underneath Review

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Steven Soderbergh takes the form and some of the stylistic elements of film noir and uses them to slightly different ends in a cool, interesting reworking of the Don Taylor novel.

The film has a complex structure interweaving four time lines. The present day is the day on which an armoured van robbery is in progress. Driving the van is Michael Chambers (Gallagher), who is clearly a man with a story and obliges en route by flashing back on the past that led to this day. Michael was a feckless gambler who ran out of luck, incurring life-threatening IOUs. Much later, financial scores settled, he has returned to the hometown in Texas he fled, to face the wife he abandoned, her jealous hoodlum lover, and the policeman brother smouldering with lifelong resentment of Michael's easy charm and good looks.

Post-heist, the pieces of betrayals and paybacks come together in an arresting hospital room sequence in which nearly everyone who matters pays a visit to a dazed and confused Michael, who is right where everyone wants him. The thematic crunch is who can you trust, and underneath are people ever what they seem?

Dumping the noir totems of the masochistic patsy and femme fatale, this is far more about the relationships than the crime, with sardonic noirish lines ("There's what you want and what's good for you; they never meet") are mixed with more profound jokes. Thus it is too contemplative a crime thriller to get the pulse racing or the tills ringing, but it's an intriguing exercise, clever in concept and execution.