Film Reviews


By • Oct 22nd, 2004 •

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MGM / United Artists and ContentFilm present a Sunflower production
MPAA rating: R / Running time: 107 minutes

QUOTE: A mean, dark thriller set in broad daylight.

The exact locale of UNDERTOW is never mentioned since it is a place nobody wants to visit. Deep South hog farmer and part-time taxidermist John (Dermot Mulroney) has two sons: taciturn teenager Chris (Jamie Bell) and sickly Tim (Devon Alan). The hard burden of farm chores falls to trouble-making Chris since Tim is so disturbed he is intentionally poisoning himself (self-medicating an ulcer).

Into this filthy dump of a home comes John’s ex-con brother Deel (Josh Lucas). Whatever happened between the two brothers still festers, yet John invites Deel to stay, work around the farm, and keep an eye on his sons. Oh yes, an angry ex-con looking for his share of dad’s gold coins is a prefect babysitter.

Apparently, and all too well, director David Gordon Green knows about rural, white trash life in the South. This is a mean, dark thriller set in broad daylight.

John’s wife died and the family is in ruins. Something must be amiss and Deel’s arrival brings the family’s crisis to a head. While we never find out why Tim is drinking paint, we do begin to understand why John is emotionally distant from Chris.

Dad stole some coins years ago and Deel wants his share. He looks around and sees that John is doing well. He’s got a big farm and nice boots. Why John did not share the coins with Deel is not clear. Well, he does think they are cursed. If they are cursed, why not give them to Deel and be free of them? Deel could use a hand getting his life in order.

Deel does find the coins and kills John in a messy, bloody brawl. He loses the coins to the boys, who run off. Deel survives an attack by the boys and chases them through the worst rural slop imaginable. Tim is assigned the task of carrying the coins in his knapsack. Chris and Tim finally arrive at a seaport dump where a group of runaways make their home. Chris becomes involved with Violet (Shiri Appleby) who finds the coins.

Deel is as sexy as Southern evil can be. He has an aura of cruelty that would make Satan watchful, but so does John. These men could only have been raised by a tough bastard. Lucas is sensational with the right tone and ex-convict charm that repels and seduces. Bell captures the fury and confusion of a teenager forced to become a man. With this movie, that sweet ballet movie is well behind him.

UNDERTOW, not a pretty story, is so true to the material that it ranks alongside another nasty rural tale of murderous rage, the fascinating FRAILITY. Green, aided by Production Designer Richard A. Wright and Director of Photography Tim Orr, accomplishes his ambitions with this tight, rough-edged thriller.

Chris: Jamie Bell
Deel: John Lucas
Tim: Devon Alan
John: Dermot Mulroney
Violet: Shiri Appleby

Director: David Gordon Green
Screenwriters: Joe Conway, David Gordon Green
Story by: Lingard Jervey
Producers: Lisa Muskat, Terrence Malick, Edward R. Pressman
Executive producers: John Schmidt, Alessandro Camon
Director of photography: Tim Orr
Production designer: Richard A. Wright
Music: Philip Glass
Additional music: Michael Linnen, David Wingo
Costume designer: Jill Newell
Editors: Zene Baker, Steven Gonzoles

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