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Overall Rating

Awesome: 45.24%
Worth A Look47.62%
Just Average: 2.38%
Pretty Crappy: 2.38%
Sucks: 2.38%

5 reviews, 12 user ratings

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by EricDSnider

"Everyone likes hillbillies, but David Gordon Green LOVES them."
4 stars

David Gordon Green's "Undertow" opens the same way his beautiful "All the Real Girls" did, with two teens in love gazing at each other and sharing whispered conversation. But in short order the film turns away from Green's usual style of atmosphere and character drama and develops, of all things, a plot.

The results are not completely successful. Green's strengths are not in telling stories but in painting pictures and evoking moods. But "Undertow" often manages to have it both ways, to show a compelling storyline and to be contemplative. Sometimes the mechanics of the plot serve the greater good by putting the characters into situations in which Green's writing and directing skills can be put to truly excellent use.

It is set in rural Georgia in what could either be today or 25 years ago. A widower named John Munn (Dermot Mulroney) has a tiny farm and two sons, 16-year-old Chris (Jamie Bell) and 10-year-old Tim (Devon Alan). Chris is the Romeo we saw at the beginning, just prior to his being chased away by the girl's father on account of Chris being a no-account -- a barefoot no-account at that, which proves to be a liability when, in his flight, he steps on a board with a nail in it.

Chris has been in and out of trouble since the family moved to the boondocks following their mother's death. Young Tim is in poor health owing to his having pica, a syndrome wherein victims compulsively eat non-food items. Tim has a particular fondness, if you can call it that, for dirt and paint.

Events are set in motion when John's brother, the extremely no-account Uncle Deel (Josh Lucas), shows up for reasons he does not explain. We soon realize he wants his share of his and father's collection of Mexican gold coins, allegedly worth thousands of dollars. The lengths to which he will go to get these coins are, to put it mildly, unsettling.

Chris and Tim eventually find themselves wandering through the backwoods of the South, taking care of each other and relying on the kindness of strangers when they can. Their relationship, well-played by Jamie Bell (of "Billy Elliot") and Devon Alan, feels natural and real. Honest relationships are a hallmark of Green's films, and this is no exception.

It is tempting to dismiss the whole lot of them as white-trash hillbillies, and I suppose that would be an accurate assessment. But the film succeeds in making them sympathetic, fully realized characters. They are fascinating to watch, not because they are different from the mainstream, but because they are, in spite of their differences, very familiar.

The urgent musical score by Philip Glass improves the film; in fact, I daresay most films are improved by a Philip Glass score. The cinematography, by Green regular Tim Orr, beautifully captures the rural environment and contributes greatly to the film's overall feel.

That "feel" is ultimately what plants the movie firmly in excellent territory. The story itself, though occasionally compelling, is mostly just a means to an end, a way to show these particular people reacting to a series of events. It's the people who are most interesting, not the things that happen to them. As with "All the Real Girls," I found myself wanting to hang out in this world for a little while longer.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10437&reviewer=247
originally posted: 11/10/04 01:49:18
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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

8/10/05 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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