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Number of Reviews on MG: 1524
Undertow
2004 - R - 107 Mins.
Director: David Gordon Green
Producer: Terrence Malick
Written By: Joe Conway, David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, Devon Alan
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site: www.mgm.com/ua/undertow/
   
A first-rate cast can’t save the wonderful if uneven ‘Undertow’ from indie film/under-distributed Hell. Starring Jamie Bell (all grown up from his memorable debut in ‘Billy Elliot’), Josh Lucas and Dermot Mulroney, ‘Undertow’ is an unusual drama that feels more like a Southern update of ‘Treasure Island’ where real pirates threatened, killed and maimed even innocent children.

British actor Bell convincingly manages a Southern accent as Chris Munn, a made-for-mischief scrawny teenager who’s bored of his rural life with his younger brother, Tim (Devon Alan) and his father John (Mulroney). The Munn family lives on a squalid hog farm in Georgia that’s brought to life with vivid cinematography reminiscent of the lush greenery in ‘Wrong Turn.’

The two brothers obey their joylessly strict father but it’s clear that they’re ready to bolt when they’re old enough. Life on the hog farm is hard work and dull as dishwater. But their prayers for adventure are answered when a mysterious uncle, Deel, shows up. Josh Lucas has recently taken to portraying slick Southerners with oily, dangerous appeal so it’s no surprise when long suppressed family secrets between Deel and John start to ooze out and intrigue the kids.

When a family treasure of gold coins (thank you, Robert Louis Stevenson!) becomes a violent ignition between father and uncle, young Chris and Tim run for their lives into a not so friendly world with an ominous soundtrack by Philip Glass. And uncle Deel, channeling a murderous Long John Silver, isn’t far behind. ‘Undertow’ becomes a coming-of-age adventure for Chris as he’s ejected from the family nest and protective of his oddball kid brother.

With some seedy background characters and po’white’trash central, ‘Undertow’ often feels like it’s rehashing Southern stereotypes. But since writer/director David Gordon Green is from Arkansas, one would have to assume that he knows what he’s writing about. The dialogue is smart and the characters are all fascinating. However, ‘Undertow’ suffers from clumsy MTV video-style touches – abrupt changes from color to grainy black and white – jarring switches reminiscent of the mediocre remake of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’ Once you’ve have a kick or two of those thriller-movie cuts, the movie then slows down as if Green suddenly remembers that the pace of life in the rural South is supposed to be as slow as molasses in January.

‘Undertow’ is an acting showcase for Jamie Bell’s smart transition into grown-up roles. He’s also starting young with the British Actor’s Guide to Conquering Hollywood – learn an American accent! The film is also a reminder that Josh Lucas deserves to be a star. Even with memorable work in ‘A Beautiful Mind,’ ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Wonderland,’ Lucas is often relegated to supporting role cartoon villains. As the bitter and violent, Deel, you get the feeling that Lucas has a deep well of emotion to draw from.

Currently in limited release, ‘Undertow’ deserves a wider audience which it will no doubt get once it’s on video.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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