Undertow - Review
Review by Jack Foley
AMERICA’S deep South provides the perfect setting for a steamy potboiler about family and revenge that boasts a terrific lead performance from Britain’s Jamie Bell.
The Billy Elliot star transforms himself completely as 17-year-old farm-hand, Chris, who finds himself continually in trouble with his peers, while growing up with his younger brother, Tim (Devon Alan) and widowed father, John (Dermot Mulroney), in the isolated backwoods of the US.
Sporting a near-perfect Southern drawl, the actor cuts a believable figure as the frustrated Chris, whose mounting frustration with his lack of opportunity is compounded by the concern he feels for his sick younger sibling.
Life changes dramatically, however, when the family is paid an impromptu visit by John’s brother, Deel (Josh Lucas), a self-assured loner, recently released from prison, who arrives at the farm harbouring a grudge.
Deel’s presence merely increases the tension between the householders and it is only a matter of time before matters turn violent, forcing Chris to go on the run with his younger brother.
But the swampland and countryside surrounding them holds many unseen dangers and with Tim’s health worsening, Chris must call upon every resource at his disposal to protect what’s left of his family.
While the premise of Undertow suggests a fast-moving adventure, the film actually takes its time to unfold, thereby allowing the cast plenty of space to shine.
The relationship between the two young brothers is particularly well-played, as is the rivalry between Mulroney and Lucas (excellent as the villain of the piece).
Yet the director, Gordon Green, who is a true native of the American South, takes time to carefully depict the settings, making them as much a character as those who inhabit proceedings.
As such, his film also possesses an ethereal quality similar to the work of Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line, Badlands), who serves as one of Undertow’s producers.
It means that the film is likely to test the patience of some viewers, especially since the ending is as subtle and low-key as the rest of the movie.
But for those willing to stick with it, Undertow offers a beguiling experience that takes a similar theme and creates something that is vastly different from the norm.