Published Nov 01, 2004David Gordon Green set a definite precedent for himself with 2000's George Washington and last year's All The Real Girls. His remarkable vision behind the camera garnered instant comparisons to legendary recluse Terence Malick and an audience was built that would jump at the chance to join his cult, if he ever decided to form one.
From Undertow's opening '70s-flavoured credits (with a Deliverance-style font), Green gives the impression that he is no longer in Kansas. Translation: bigger budget equals bigger risks and a much different style of filmmaking. Of course, it should come as no surprise that Green is in this financial situation given his portfolio, but from the opening sequence of the film there is a sudden undeniable change.
Opening with the gut-wrenching scene of Chris Munn (a grown up Jamie Bell, of Billy Elliott fame) jumping onto a nail and continuing to run away from the police with a wooden board stuck to his foot, it is an unexpected and unsettling idea. However, it fully prepares you to be disappointed for the next hour and three-quarters.
To be clear, Undertow is not a bad film. The cinematography is a breathtaking view of Savannah, Georgia that most of us probably wouldn't want to experience in the flesh. Green's attention to detail with setting is impeccable, as the rustic lifestyle could not be depicted any better. Where it all goes a little awry is in the slow-moving story, little character development and overall nature of the film.
When Deel Munn (Josh Lucas) visits his brother's (Dermot Mulroney) home, he disrupts their everyday life and eventually commits an unforgivable act that initiates a chase sequence for more than half of the film. The theme of betrayal is a familiar one for Green and his use of it should be more devastating than what we experience. There is very little intensity in the pursuit following the deplorable act and that sets the pace for the remainder.
Bell shows a lot of promise in his role as the older brother, while Devon Alan does good work as the ailing, troublesome younger brother, but there isn't much of a need to sit and watch them survive. Coming off last year's awe-inspiring effort, All The Real Girls, Undertow is a major disappointment that leaves too many questions, which we can only hope the DVD extras will be able to answer. (UA/MGM)