Undertow Blu-ray Review
Some time ago, John Munn (Dermot Mulroney, ABOUT SCHMIDT) moved his sons to Georgia to live a life of quiet isolation. The sons, Chris (Jamie Bell, who made his debut four years earlier in BILLY ELLIOT) and Tim (Devon Alan, who had appeared in episodes of CSI and ER), are barred from leaving the property. One attempt by Chris leaves him in a chase with police and with a nail in his foot. When they get home from the station, Chris screams at his father: “What kind of birthday is it with just the three of us?”
There was a fourth, their mother, but she died sometime before the move to Georgia. The three have kept mostly to themselves when possible, adopting farming as their trade. They will soon be joined by Deel Munn (Josh Lucas, Ang Lee’s HULK), John’s brother, who the boys never knew existed.
Deel isn’t looking to recruit attendees to the Munn Family Reunion. He is just out of prison and John expresses some regret in never visiting. There is some discomfort, but they appear to have the capabilities to renew their bond. And then Deel makes mention of a stash of gold coins their father used to have. When this is brought up, Deel seems to turn dangerous—then, we, as much as John, knows he had this trait all along. Inevitably, questions are asked and the dynamic in the house shifts and actions are done that cannot be undone.
UNDERTOW is the third feature from David Gordon Green, who previously helmed 2000’s GEORGE WASHINGTON and 2003’s ALL THE REAL GIRLS. While his debut marked him as a young name to watch and its follow-up as someone who could adeptly manage onscreen relationships, UNDERTOW stands out as a solidifier. (A retrospective might note how Green got off track with stoner comedies like PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and YOUR HIGHNESS. He has since, for the most part, reintroduced himself to his initial followers with works like PRINCE AVALANCHE and JOE.) It is the sort of daring, bold and fascinating picture that meshes some of the most compelling matters found in family dramas, Southern Gothic tales and, to a degree, children’s books.
Green is something of a master at quietly exploring that which needs to stir. At times, he is reminiscent of Terrence Malick, who was a significant influence on Green (and who served as producer here). At other points, he is clearly his own filmmaker, with a distinguished eye.
While portions can be overdone at times (consider the opening credits, which are sporadically filtered for no apparent reason, or the sudden freeze frames which don’t lend to much), there is so much that runs without flair that the entire story feels as authentic as the dirt under the characters’ fingers. A portion of this comes from frequent Green collaborator cinematographer Tim Orr, who has the ability to make the landscapes seem so spacious and yet the scenarios so confined. There is also the acting from Bell and Alan, who both earned Young Artist Awards.
Now more than 15 years and 11 films into his career, David Gordon Green has more than proved an essential and generally reliable presence in both independent and mainstream cinema. UNDERTOW isn’t where it started, but it’s where the blossom truly occurred.
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. This high-definition transfer offers a natural look that benefits the style of the film.
Audio: English Dolby Digital. Dialogue is clean and the sounds of the rural settings add to the atmosphere.