Having never seen Undertow, I was pretty stoked to check it so I picked it up from Amazon. All in all, I did enjoy Undertow. Not as much as the likes of George Washington or Prince Avalanche or even Snow Angels but Undertow is a solid Southern Gothic that has some truly great moments, including a perfectly edited opening sequence that really captivated me.
The acting was authentic (Especially that by Josh Lucas who knocked his role out of the park) and Tim Orr's cinematography made the film's viewing a lot more pleasurable. Tim always manages to make the best of every moment and for that, he is always one of my more preferred DOP's. Also, it was super cool to see Pat Healy in a small role as Grant The Mechanic. Fuck yeah. And of the violence in the film, there was about 15-20 seconds of lazy, sloppy choreography that sticks out like a sore thumb. The additional scenes of said struggle were very realistic however, it shifted the film into a different gear when they got certain elements of the brutality right.
I also really enjoyed the script for the most part. Even though it drags in certain places, it was pretty credible. Some of the scenes in this film felt like filler and because of the points where the film dragged, it felt overlong. If DGG trimmed this movie to an 80-85 minute run-time instead of a 108 minute one, then Undertow would have been a truly masterful film. But if you're into a film that isn't afraid to take chances and has a wholly unique style, then check this out. Undertow is a great little flick that should appeal to audiences who are looking for a slow-burn, artsy thriller that plays by it's own rules.
Alas, it adds up to an okay film.
The plot: Chris (Jamie Bell) is a volatile teen who lives with his father, John (Dermot Mulroney), and his little brother, Tim (Devon Alan). After the death of Chris' mother, his 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.
As I was watching this film I noticed the director David Gordon Green was going down the paths of raw bitter human emotions. As things began to be darker and darker, the characters is in conflict with a dangerous man (who happens to be their uncle or real father?) on the loose. I cringed each time I witness Josh Lucas as Deel who kinda reminded me of Kevin Costner in Clint Eastwood's "A Perfect World". His performance I felt was the best and the most frightening. I also seemed to cared for the two brothers Chris and Tim and the problmatic situations those two were up against. "Undertow" is a great film and a film I could watch countless times. David Gordon Green is starting to mold himself into a serious filmmaker.
The runner's name is Chris. Roaming and fooling around, this kid from Georgia wants escape. He's trapped in a meager household with a staid dad (Dermot Mulroney) and a paint-eater brother (Devon Alan). His hours are humdrum, mainly hogged by minding hogs. But that's about to change when an ominous character (Josh Lucas) drops by.
His name is Deel. He reeks of danger, even before we know he just came from prison. The father says he's okay though. Deel's his brother; he's family. Therefore, he can live with them. He can take care of the boys while the dad is away.
But seriously, what is the real deal with Deel? The guy behaves so dubiously. Why did he go to prison? And why does he keep asking about some mythic coins he's supposed to inherit? Hmmm.
The movie can be pitched as a Southern gothic thriller. Deel is a villain, unafraid to use violence to get what he wants. To him, Chris and his younger brother are obstacles. They're the targets (a.k.a. the ones we'll be rooting for). But for a movie called "Undertow," there is a hidden drama gushing beneath the thriller. If one looks deeper, one might recognize that the welcoming brother might be acting out of compunction. And the criminal brother is scary, not out of malice, but of desperation. Once you get inside their heads, there's an anticipation of dread. Sure enough when the past is cut open, blood will be shockingly shed.
The most intriguing character for me is Deel. Josh Lucas provides him with a slimy, dodgy charm. Deel is not just downright shady, he's also sly in the way he redirects conversations and pushes buttons ("We're friends, right? I'm family."). It's a well-written role that elicits varying reactions from the audience. Another actor I liked is Jamie Bell. Walking barefoot and sporting a trucker hat, the English actor has come a long way from his "Billy Elliot" dancing shoes. Bell excels in these tough-it-out underdog roles. He is not a pretty boy by Hollywood standard. But the guy is a compelling actor; you'd rather read his face than admire it in some magazine cover.
The director of "Undertow" is David Gordon Green, who would release the comedy "The Pineapple Express" four years later. That film and "Undertow" differ widely in tone, but Green has a sense of locale for both films. In "The Pineapple Express," I can still picture that marijuana lair in the final act. In "Undertow," he finds odd beauty in decay via junkyards and abandoned buildings. I think he's a bold director in his own subtle ways. Like its lead character, Green runs with what he's got. I think he improvises without losing control. Sometimes he goes for the jugular by constricting us in suspense. Other times, he lets us breathe by pacing the movie in wide-eyed possibility. I sense him experimenting moods, finely tinkering moments. While I think he runs out of gas near the muddled end, "Undertow" gets a great mileage with him in tow.