Review by Gordon Justesen
Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney
Director: David Gordon Green
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround, Portuguese Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 108 Minutes
Release Date: April 26, 2005
David Gordon Green
is quite easily the most lyrical filmmaker since Terrence Malick. At only age
30, he has managed to make three films of pure cinematic power, where the visual
atmosphere plays a most important role. The first was 2000's George
Washington, a southern-based story of tragedy. The second was 2003's All
the Real Girls, which told of a true but ultimately doomed romance.
And now Green has
made what, I feel, is his best piece of work yet. Undertow is a marvelous mixture of different genres. At its center,
it is very much a dark thriller centered on two young brothers escaping the
wrath of something hidden in the past, in more than one sense. The film is also
an observant character piece, something which Green is a master of.
Set against a rural
section of Georgia, the story tells of a struggling family of three, a widowed
father, John Munn (Dermot Mulroney) and his two sons. The older of the two,
Chris (Jamie Bell), is a troubled individual who lives in a continuing feeling
of isolation. Despite his companionship with younger brother Tim (Devon Alan),
the communication level between him and his dad has been most sour since the
passing of his mother. John is tough on them, but is clearly a loving father.
The opening scene
is one of the many surprises the film has to offer, since it seems to defy
conventional methods right from the start. Chris is eluding the angry father of
a would-be girlfriend. It starts out as a normal foot chase, until the painful
moment where Chris leaps from the top of a shed and lands foot first on a nail
connected to a wooden board. I haven't felt a more jolting effect from a film in
the family scenario, the story drops in a fourth crucial figure in the form of
Deel (Josh Lucas), John's brother. Deel has just gotten out of prison on parole,
and John is quick to welcome him to the home in an effort to help him get back
on his feet. But Deel possesses sort of a subtle sinister quality, hinting that
there's a bigger reason why he's paying a surprising visit to his brother.
surprises quite frequently, especially with a nasty plot turn about a half hour
into the film, I would be doing a disservice by revealing any details of what
follows in the rest of the film. I'll just sum it up by saying that as a result
of the development, Chris and Tim are fleeing through Georgia's backwoods by
foot. Along the way, they run into several interesting characters, which is
something to be said since in a more conventional film they would easily be
As a southern
gentleman, I must say that I am extremely proud to see a man like a David Gordon
Green, a native of Arkansas, set his stories in the south and present them in
such a poetic fashion. I'm even more proud of this because Green is actually a
truly gifted filmmaker. It's very rare to see any filmmaker put more depth and
effort into both storytelling and visual atmosphere, and Green accomplishes both
aspects with perfect ease.
There's no question
that Terrence Malick, who serves as a producer on this film, served as an
inspiration for Green's superb filmmaking style. Each of his films seems to have
its own superb echo of Malick's Days of
Heaven. Since many films today aren't made in this type of manner, it comes
across as fitting homage rather than a cheap running theme.
The performances in
the film are and purely mesmerizing. First, there's British-born Jamie Bell of Billy
Elliot, who dons a more than accurate southern dialect for the lead role of
the troubled Chris. The story is seen from his point of view and we are with him
every step of the way, and grow to care for both him and younger brother Tim.
And then there's
Josh Lucas as Deel, who fires up the screen with a grand dose of intensity and
rage. I don't think I've been more afraid of single character in any recent
film. Lucas is deeply chilling, and provides a menacing presence that will stay
with you long after seeing it.
To simply put it, Undertow
is a brooding masterpiece of cinema, complements of one of our most gifted new
filmmakers. David Gordon Green is a master storyteller and visual artist. He's a
director of true mood, tone and style, and this is by far his most brilliant
offering to date.
Being that David
Gordon Green is perfectionist of the visual aspects of cinema, there's no
question that MGM had any trouble making the most out of a beautiful looking
piece. This is indeed a magnificent looking presentation, loaded with endless
visual lush in just about every frame. The Georgia countryside setting has never
looked more amazing. The anamorphic picture does nothing short of hauling you
right into the film with its large level of image detail and sharp crisp image.
Colors are quite astonishing as well. Without question, one of the best looking
discs of the year!
Although this film
is more driven by both dialogue and individual moments of near-silence, the 5.1
mix makes outstanding use of multiple areas. First off, the dialogue is
delivered most wonderfully, in all out clarity. The score by Philip Glass is
heard in outstanding form, and sequences of tension deliver a most powerful
impact. A very well made presentation.
amount of extras on this MGM release. Included is a commentary track with David
Gordon Green and Jamie Bell, a terrific and revealing documentary titled "Under
the Undertow", which carries an optional intro by Josh Lucas, who co-directed
the documentary. Also featured are deleted scenes, an animated photo gallery, an
original theatrical trailer, as well as bonus trailers.