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Overall Rating
4.3

Awesome: 43.18%
Worth A Look50%
Average: 2.27%
Pretty Bad: 2.27%
Total Crap: 2.27%

5 reviews, 14 user ratings


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Undertow
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by Dennis Swennumson

"Three-for-three, let's hope he can avoid the Shyamalan-Effect on the next."
5 stars

“Undertow” is a film difficult to categorize. It’s built on a foundation of domestic turmoil, assembled from common parts of mainstream thrillers; cat and mouse chases, sudden instances of violence, a villain harboring hidden intentions. This is the third feature from David Gordon Green, director of “George Washington” and “All the Real Girls.” He’s a filmmaker who has deserved and received praise for effectively utilizing a downtrodden landscape- the decaying rural South- to tell typical stories of memorable summers and miscalculated love in his own unconventional narratives. It’s fashionable to refer to “Undertow” as a “Southern Gothic” work, but there’s more to be found here. It’s at once an endearing take of brotherly love, an introspective road movie, a heart-rate controlling thriller and a stark family drama.

The characters studied here make up the Munn family; father John (Dermot Mulroney), oldest son Chris (Jamie Bell, or more recognizable as “Billy Elliot”) and the younger Tim (Devon Alan), a group of men desperately in need of motherly presence. John’s method of parenting is rabidly overprotective, Chris rebels against his father and routinely is hauled into the sheriff’s office, and Tim eats objects like mud and paint to make himself throw up. The turning point is the arrival of jail-bird uncle Deel (Josh Lucas), out on parole on looking for ways to turn his life around. The plot then descends into a murky place of brooding animosity, punctuated with a violent struggle that sends Chris and Tim on the run.

Green is a filmmaker that evokes emotions in bulk, the sadness is dreary, the violence is realistic and gut- wrenching and the rare instances of happiness glow. In the opening sequence when Chris lands on a rusty nail the audience collectively flinches and we squirm as the character must continue his flee through the woods with a board attached to his foot. The narrative is very episodic, influenced by the Grimm Tales, mythology and Mark Twain stories, there are scenes that resonate with fascinating simplicity and Green’s collaboration once again with cinematographer Tim Orr gives the rusty Georgia countryside a painful beauty. “Undertow” loses its pace somewhat building up to its conclusion, but the film offers so much to marvel at and admire that flaws become microscopic.

One of the truest ways to measure a film’s effectiveness comes with atmosphere and its ability to absorb the viewer in the movie’s world. “Undertow” exists in a modern South unaffected by time, the kids play with Tonka trucks instead of videogames and cars are either piled high in junkyards or feature a thick layer of rust. It may be a stretch, but Green is comparable to another young filmmaker Wes Anderson, both of their films inherently feature strokes of the corrupted ideals of the American Dream.

With only three features to his credit, David Gordon Green has become one of our most distinguishable and important modern storytellers, and “Undertow” is one of the top movies of the year.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=10437&reviewer=338
originally posted: 11/12/04 12:10:08
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Chicago Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 New York Film Festival. For more in the 2004 New York Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Mill Valley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Brisbane Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Brisbane Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/29/20 Lana 0820 Powerfull movie with great acting---however I didn't understand the ending??? 4 stars
7/06/20 Linda1000 Good movie. A little confusing and I didn’t get the end of the movie. 4 stars
8/10/05 tigerrolph fab movie 5 stars
7/31/05 Daniel Brilliant! A stunning vision of the South in the 70's. Jamie Bell is a revelation. 5 stars
7/25/05 Captain Craig A total waist of time and mony..theirs and mine! How do they get away with it? 1 stars
7/04/05 Janet Wilson Lovely and sad, great actors, slightly confusing ending...heaven, I guess 4 stars
6/13/05 Phil M. Aficionado Moody and atmospheriic; excellent acting in search of a believable story line 3 stars
5/31/05 Indrid Cold Great acting and atmosphere, but not particularly interesting or entertaining. 4 stars
5/25/05 Cynthia Fellowes Boring, predictable plot with an unclear ending - what a waste of time! 2 stars
5/23/05 Brad N A little slow at times, but overall it was a great flim. Great characters! 5 stars
4/29/05 Jeff Anderson A brilliant, scary & terrific film. Bell, Mulroney & especially Lucas are OUTSTANDING! 5 stars
11/09/04 William Wingfield Awesome Joe Conway writes a masterpiece 5 stars
10/16/04 E Kos Wonderful film. Actors were superb with great emotion and feeling. Very natural . 5 stars
10/10/04 Carson Owens Loved IT! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  22-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 26-Apr-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
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