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Overall Rating

Awesome: 42.22%
Worth A Look48.89%
Average: 4.44%
Pretty Bad: 2.22%
Total Crap: 2.22%

5 reviews, 15 user ratings

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by Collin Souter

"Junkyards never looked so beautiful"
5 stars

David Gordon Green’s “Undertow” tells a story “based on true events that was all a lie,” as he describes it. While many people will be quick to draw comparison’s to Charles Laughton’s classic “Night of the Hunter,” “Undertow” is actually based on a 9-1-1 call from a frantic young man telling the operator some crazy stories that may or may not have been true. The film takes the stories as truth, but not without shrouding certain aspects of it in ambiguity. As with all his films, clear, concise narrative takes a backseat to atmosphere and a strong emotional landscape that tells a bigger story than the one written in the plot descriptions.

Director David Gordon Green—director of my second favorite from of 2003, “All the Real Girls…”—and co-producer Terrence Malick have put together a powerful drama set in rural Georgia, a place that seems untouched by time. Following the death of their father, Chris and Tim Munn (Jaimie Bell and Devon Alan, respectively), run away from home upon the visit of their convict Uncle Deel (Josh Lucas). They take with them a dark family secret in the form of mysterious gold coins. From there, they meet many southern locals, some hospitable, some mysterious. Their Uncle Deel—Green’s most menacing character yet—spends days searching for them.

Director Green continues to set himself apart from other filmmakers of his generation, opting for sincerity over irony and soulfulness over cynicism. Here, though, Green makes his first attempt at action and chases. Using freeze-frames, negative color and a restrained, yet comical score from Phillip Glass, Green evokes ‘70s drive-in movies as well as sun-drenched gothic horror. With an assured command over the medium that evokes Malick as well as Robert Altman (two of his main influences), Green establishes himself as an indisputable filmmaking talent and the best of his generation.

Because he also encourages his actors to improvise, Green’s films achieve an uncommon naturalism within their poetic undertones. A character can segue into a discussion about how he once saw a flock of birds kill themselves by flying straight into a house, or in this case a monologue about chigger bugs and it will sound completely conversational, even though it carries much weight. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Green does not use dialogue to call attention to his own prose, but to call attention to how his characters feel.

Once again, Green gets the best out of his actors. Jamie Bell, the English kid who played “Billy Elliot,” fits Green’s directorial style perfectly. Brooding, vulnerable and fueled by anger without succumbing to its worst temptations, he makes Chris Munn into a character one would study in a classic piece of literature. Devon Alan gives a wonderful performance as Chris’s younger brother Tim. Unlike many of Hollywood’s young stars of his generation, Alan does not give the impression he’s acting, but actually communicating. As Uncle Deel, Josh Lucas teeters on the brink of going way over the top, but reels it in just in time.

Green’s films also take place in the south, but without reducing his characters to southern archetypes. With George Washington, the African-American characters never face any racism or bigotry from the white characters, a trait that some viewers criticized. Here, the supporting characters blend seamlessly into the rusty, mud-soaked landscape as both character and scenery without forcing negative, dumb-as-a-brick connotations to the tapestry. Nature plays a big part in the narrative and Green knows how to have his characters and setting coexist peacefully even when enduring family tragedy, heartbreak and violence.

I remember when I saw “All the Real Girls…” for the first time and not being able to get out of my seat once the movie ended. The movie had a profound effect on me as a viewer, as a lover of cinema and as a human being who has had his share of love and heartbreak. “Undertow” did not have the same effect, nor did I expect it to. It is not a love story, but a story that depicts brotherly love in the face of violence. It remains amazing to me that a director still under the age of 30 can convey these themes with uncommon authenticity, style and wisdom. Green knows a thing or two about telling the truth.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Portions of this review can also be found in the 2004 Chicago International Guidebook, also written by Collin Souter.

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originally posted: 10/22/04 23:21:10
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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

8/27/20 Jack Sommersby An entertaining failure by the overrated Green. 3 stars
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
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  22-Oct-2004 (R)
  DVD: 26-Apr-2005



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