Saturday, June 18, 2005
Movie Review: "Undertow"
Starring Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Devon Allen and Dermot Mulroney
Directed by David Gordon Green
While possessing some of the characteristics of a straight forward thriller, "Undertow" doesn't move like one. In fact, director David Gordon Green seems intent on keeping his film, which he co-wrote with Joe Conway, off the beaten path.
One way he does so comes through casting, with English actor Jamie Bell, who some might remember as the title character in "Billy Elliot," playing the central character, Chris Munn. Chris is a rebellious teen who has a propensity for getting in trouble, as demonstrated though the attention-grabbing opening credit sequence.
Living in isolation in rural Georgia with his dad John (Dermot Mulroney) and his younger brother Tim (Devon Allen), Chris is growing resentful of the restricted life imposed on him. After the death of his wife several years ago, John moved his family to the country to escape society and his past. But his past returns in the form of his brother Deel (Josh Lucas), who shows up after getting out of prison. Prior to his jail term, the brothers' relationship crumbled and John sees this as an opportunity to heal old wounds. But Deel has other ideas.
Deel seeks what he believes to be his fair share of some gold coins left to John by their late father, which leads to Chris and Tim fleeing for their lives into the woods and swamps of the country.
While Deel does pursue the boys through the remainder of the film, the movie isn't really interested in showing thrilling chase scenes. Instead, Green chooses to keep the focus primarily on the two young brothers, well portrayed by Bell and Allen. Bell is particularly impressive, adopting a convincing southern accent while maintaining a strong screen presence in what had to be a physical role. Lucas is also effective in keeping his character away from a one-note cliché, hinting at the sadness underneath the resentment he harbors towards his brother.
While it couldn't be deemed original, Green does display a unique filming style, making frequent use of freeze frames and scenes fading to black. The film is also well shot, even though this shows a more dilapidated and backwoods south than typically portrayed in movies.
However, the pacing is a bit slack at times, with some scenes tending to linger longer than necessary to make their point. Add to it the fact that the movie doesn't stick to too many conventions, and some people could be turned off from a few of its odd charms.
Although he has made two previous films, "George Washington" and "All the Real Girls," I was not familiar with Green prior to this film. While "Undertow" is a bit rough around the edges and isn't entirely successful in maintaining interest, Green shows he is a name to watch. He possesses some definite filmmaking skills and where he goes from here should be interesting.
(Rated R for violence.)