Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
AMERICAN'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
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.