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Overall Rating

Awesome: 42.22%
Worth A Look48.89%
Just Average: 4.44%
Pretty Crappy: 2.22%
Sucks: 2.22%

5 reviews, 15 user ratings

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by Beth Gilligan

"Slow-paced but visually arresting third feature from David Gordon Green."
4 stars

In his third feature, David Gordon Green spins a tale of violence, greed, and betrayal in rural Georgia. Boosted by an outstanding lead performance by Jamie Bell and stunning cinematography by Tim Orr, the movie is slow-paced but nevertheless absorbing.

David Gordon Green is one of the more unusual directors to emerge from the so-called American independent cinema movement in recent years. Like many of his contemporaries, his first taste of success was on the film festival circuit, but unlike so many of them, he has chosen to ease his way into the world of higher-budget filmmaking, taking time to hew his craft and find his voice. Whereas Christopher Nolan leapfrogged from Memento (2000) to Insomnia (2002) to the upcoming Batman Begins, and Bryan Singer segued from Public Access (1993) to The Usual Suspects (1995) to X-Men (2000), Green seems to be in no hurry to return Hollywood’s phone calls.

In many ways, this is hardly surprising. For audiences accustomed to the frantic style of Quentin Tarantino and his many acolytes, Green’s films, with their languid pacing and emphasis on atmosphere over plot, may come as something of a shock. Although he shares the 1970s obsession of the Tarantino crowd, he reveres directors such as Terence Malick (who served as a producer on Undertow), Tom Laughlin, and Charles Burnett over the usual suspects (Scorcese, Coppola, et al.).

Although many of these characteristics suggest that we have a great filmmaker on our hands, it is important to remember that Green, who is 29, is still a young artist finding his voice. Glimpses of brilliance are evident throughout all three of his major feature films (his 2000 breakthrough George Washington, last year’s romantic drama All the Real Girls, and Undertow), but dialogue and pacing occasionally weigh them down.

In the case of Undertow, Green’s confidence seems to erode when he shifts to more conventional narrative ground. The story revolves around two young boys, Chris (British actor Jamie Bell, employing an astonishingly realistic Southern accent) and Tim (Devon Alan), who live with their widowed father John (Dermot Mulroney) on a farm in rural Georgia. John, a deeply taciturn man, is a caring father, but nevertheless seems to be struggling to raise his boys in the wake of their mother’s death. As a result, Chris has frequent run-ins with the local cops, and Tim is saddled with an anxiety disorder that makes him unable to keep his food down.

Given their mutual discontent, the last thing the three men need is a visit from John’s volatile brother, Deel (Josh Lucas). Recently released from prison (or so he says), Deel arrives on the farm with a chip on his shoulder and a score to settle. Namely, he is in search of some gold coins given to John by their father. In Deel’s eyes, half of the coins belong to him, and he’s willing to resort to violence to get a hold of them.

While the above may sound very plot-driven, rest assured Green does not abandon the template of his previous films entirely. United Artists may be marketing Undertow as a thriller, but the pacing is not nearly tight enough for it to live up to this label. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for Green’s trademark poetic digressions are one of the features that make his films worth watching. However, it seems that he has yet to comfortably acclimate himself to working with a more conventional narrative structure, which is what the material calls for.

Despite these flaws, Green has an undeniable skill for directing child actors, and his rendering of the American South is a thousand times more interesting and varied than anything from Hollywood that claims to depict the region. Undertow may not be a perfect film, but Green’s vision is so wholly unique in this cinematic climate that you can’t take your eyes off the events onscreen.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10437&reviewer=379
originally posted: 10/08/04 11:49:56
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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

8/26/20 Jack Sommersby An entertaining failure by the overrated Green. 3 stars
7/28/20 Lana 0820 Powerfull movie with great acting---however I didn't understand the ending??? 4 stars
7/05/20 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
7/24/05 Captain Craig A total waist of time and mony..theirs and mine! How do they get away with it? 1 stars
7/03/05 Janet Wilson Lovely and sad, great actors, slightly confusing ending...heaven, I guess 4 stars
6/12/05 Phil M. Aficionado Moody and atmospheriic; excellent acting in search of a believable story line 3 stars
5/30/05 Indrid Cold Great acting and atmosphere, but not particularly interesting or entertaining. 4 stars
5/24/05 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
11/08/04 William Wingfield Awesome Joe Conway writes a masterpiece 5 stars
10/15/04 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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