Undertow David Gordon Green

I've always wondered if the films of David Gordon Green weren't just a more humanistic version of heroin chic, with working class or desperately poor characters mined for lyricism the way drug addicts are often used for cheap horror. And yet, I've always come away from his works thinking they're more than the sum of their affectations. So it is with Undertow. In one sense, it's a knucklehead combination of Walt Whitman and Macon County Line, with a teenaged Jamie Bell wrenched from innocence on his deep-south farm when ex-con/uncle Josh Lucas comes home to collect a debt; murder and the flight from evil give the outline a '70s exploitation feeling. But though it stumbles fairly often on Southern Gothic clichés, it never fails to entrance with its Night of the Hunter-ish tale of kids on the run and its accidentally complex exploration of morally pure isolation and the unprotected world outside its perimeter. And special mention must be made of Tim Orr's majestic sun-dappled cinematography, which makes the film vibrate in ways the narrative can't do on its own. It's a problematic but entrancing film, and it establishes Green as a major talent, if a slightly unconscious one. Extras begin with a commentary by Green and Bell that's at once packed with on-set intrigue and sadly indicative of the director's assumptions about class. A crew-created "making of" featurette (with optional introduction by Josh Lucas) outlines the astoundingly difficult shoot, which involves irate locals, hot temperatures, cast injuries and the horror of chiggers (don't ask). Two deleted scenes, an animated photo gallery and the trailer round out a package that's worth your time. (MGM)