Film review: Undertow

Published: Thursday, Jan. 13 2005 12:51 p.m. MST

British actor Jamie Bell had to adopt a convincing drawl to match the people and culture of the deep South.

Karey C. Williams, United Artists

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"Undertow" is certainly one of the grimiest movies in recent memory. You can practically taste the dirt and grit the characters are covered in. And as a result, you may feel like taking a shower afterward.

That vivid attention to atmosphere is a deliberate move on the part of filmmaker David Gordon Green, who's trying to capture the look of some of the more lurid '70s movies, as well as the swampy textures of the deep South.

While you have to applaud him for getting at least that part of the movie right, it doesn't make for a very appealing viewing experience. And neither does the fact that there really aren't any particularly sympathetic characters here.

This dramatic thriller is allegedly based on a true story about the Munn family — particularly widower John Munn (Dermot Mulroney), a very strict father, and his troublemaking oldest son, Chris (Jamie Bell).

Things go from bad to worse when John's brother Deel (Josh Lucas) shows up looking for a place to stay. The charismatic con man claims to be hoping for reconciliation with his estranged brother. But as it turns out, he's really after gold coins that John has stashed away. And when the two come to blows over the loot, their disagreement turns deadly.

Consequently, Chris and his younger brother, Tim (Devon Alan), find themselves on the run and have to rely on their smarts just to stay one step ahead of their murderous uncle.

This is one of the more vivid movie experiences in recent memory, but Green's best efforts are thwarted by the script, which introduces a handful of interesting new characters only to quickly drop them (the female supporting characters played by Shiri Appleby and Kristen Stewart receive far too little screen time).

Also, there are troubling shifts in the film's tone (one scene appears to be played for laughs) and Philip Glass' score doesn't really fit.

Still, the cast is good. British actor Bell adopts a convincing Southern drawl, and Lucas is one of the more menacing character actors out there.

"Undertow" is rated R for some strong scenes of violence (including some brutal brawling and a knife fight), occasional use of strong sexual profanity and some vulgar slang terms, gore, and brief partial male nudity. Running time: 107 minutes.


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