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Undertow (2004)

Cast: Jamie Bell, Jamie Bell, Devon Alan, more...
Director: David Gordon Green, David Gordon Green
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: MGM
Genre: Independent
Running Time: 108 min.
Languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese
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Chris (Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot) is a volatile teen who lives with his father, John (Dermot Mulroney) and his little brother, Tim (Devon Alan). After the death of his mother, Chris's reclusive father moved the family to a shack in backwoods Georgia, where they raise hogs. Tim has an unusual eating disorder. He is constantly making himself sick by eating things like dirt and paint. One day, John's estranged brother, Deel (Josh Lucas) gets out of prison, and shows up on the farm. John is less than thrilled to see him, but agrees to let him stay with the family, as long as Deel helps him look after his boys. Chris is drawn to his wild man uncle, but it soon becomes clear that Deel has more on his mind than a family reunion. Greed and years of resentment lead to violence, and Chris finds himself on the run, towing his sickly brother along, with Deel in pursuit. Undertow is writer/director David Gordon Green's third feature, and features many of the same crew as his previous films, George Washington and All the Real Girls, including cinematographer Tim Orr. Green, who co-wrote the script with Joe Conway, has cited the influence of filmmaker Terrence Malick, who is credited as a producer. Green was also influenced by low-budget regional films of the 1970s (films like Macon County Line and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and by Charles Laughton's classic, The Night of the Hunter. Undertow was selected by the Film Society of Lincoln Center for inclusion in the 2004 New York Film Festival. ~ Josh Ralske, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Fathers, Sons and Unholy Ghosts by qgnb July 7, 2006 - 2:08 PM PDT
Is it a realist thriller? Or a semi-surreal fable? DGG using all manner if cinematic technique to construct this story that is not easily any certain thing. Most obviously it is a thriller about two boys being pursued by their murderous uncle. But though the genre conventions are present they are employed in an unconventional way. At the same time this is also a story of a family curse, a demon, and a treasure. But it is by no means fantasy. The unnamed time and place further heighten the effect - it is set somewhere in the American south sometime in the 70s ... I think, but it's so strange you never really know for sure.

The first time I saw this film I was a little disappointed in comparison to DGG's other two films. It had a vivid feel to it in terms of setting and design. But I had a hard time following the symbolic elements and the stylistic homage to 70's filmmaking was a bit distracting.

A second viewing was immensely rewarding, however. After a year or so, I found this film to be more memorable than just about anything else I had seen, despite its flaws. Watching again, the strange world between realism and fantasy, and the stylistic flourishes, were much smoother. In fact I was engrossed. DGG draws elements from a lot of different places and manages both to make them his own and be very consistent with how he deploys them.

This is a unique film - unlike anything else really. If you are looking for a straight-forward suspense film, you may not like what you get. Perhaps this is where the comment on DGG's inability to tell a solid story comes from. His films are poetic and associative; conventional linear plotting is not a big concern of his. To expect otherwise wouldn't make any sense. His is also the most original and expressive voice in American film today.

I'd rank this next to "All the Real Girls" as an equally excellent film. They are both still second to "George Washington," a masterpiece that no American film made since has equalled.

Also of note are the performances in the film, especially Jamie Bell and Josh Lucas. And did I mention that Philip Glass composed the score?

A Strong Sense of "Place" by talltale April 27, 2005 - 4:18 PM PDT
7 out of 7 members found this review helpful
UNDERTOW is probably David Gordon Green's most accessible (and also his best) work. Which is still not saying a hell of a lot. What this director does possess is a vivid sense of place and the ability to share that sense (sights, sounds, feelings, everything but the smell) with viewers. What he does not yet come close to having is any idea of how to tell a story both interestingly and believably. He either gets one or the other. With "George Washington," he fractured (and "subtled") the story to the point of losing viewer interest, and then he filled "All the Real Girls" full of false notes and pretension that ruined some good writing and acting.

With this new one, he has tried his hand at a chase/thriller/dysfunctional family flick that starts well, keeps up its pace for awhile and then collapses in a heap of thriller clichés and unbelievable nonsense. Very well cast with fine performances from Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney and newcomer Devon Alan, this is not a difficult movie to sit through. And again, that sense of place and as is strong and wonderful as ever.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.81)
57 Votes
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