Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Undertow" (2004) - Movie Review

After taking a peaceful drive through the middle of the Lake Mattamuskeet in the North Carolina, I took the 264 East in to the mouth of a desolated and dreary country side. A part which had houses with hollow soul and a calmness which would shrill the voices far distant in the depth of the woods. It was a wintery afternoon and there is no reason to be outside other than a foreigner with an appetite for traveling questioning his decision to ride that day. The houses, roads and the thick woods in “Undertow” which actually was shot in the vicinity of Savannah GA (which this reviewer covered during that trip later) took me to the day when I had that peaceful eerie drive in the afternoon which seemed so far and so long gone.

Directed by David Gordon Green, “Undertow” holds a literary value in the work of cinematic visual. In one of the houses as I mentioned earlier, there lives a family. A widower and a father of two is John (Dermot Mulroney). We see the rebel and the trouble maker Chris (Jamie Bell), the eldest son of John running away from law after breaking the window of his girl friend’s dad. During his escape he lands on a wood with a protruding nail piercing right through his foot and he runs along with it splashing into the muddy waters of the area. If that does not tell the film is with Southern flood of nature and the stillness of the photography in characters and unspoken movements among them, then you are in the wrong movie.

In a weather which hesitates between rain and shine, John has hard time getting Chris in control and vigilance of his trouble with the law. A relatively weak and with an eating disorder is John’s younger son Tim (Devon Alan). John has moved away from the smells of socialization and has a territory defined wherein it congests with sorrow, regret and painful memories. One fine day, he is visited by his elder brother Deel (Josh Lucas). Both sit together and in lines between each other are betrayal, blame and suspicion. John offers a place to stay and food to feed if he could give a hand with seeing his kids. Deel accepts and when he takes Chris to a drive and smells the free air and the loose throttle, we understand he is out of the prison. He has ulterior motives as expected.

Soon we understand what Deel is after. An old set of gold coins passed on by their dad to John and Deel claims to have been cheated of his half. He has been cheated before as John’s wife used to be Deel’s girl friend. The crime for which Deel went to prison is never revealed. What is needed for the story is the past unburied and wandering undead becoming a sudden movement in the film for a violent outcome. Deel finds the gold coins hidden. The story takes its turn and the kids are loose with the coins and Deel goes after them. This is after of course Deel settles his score with John.

“Undertow” is not a film looking for thrills. It is a film about the south and its richness in greenery and characters. Josh Lucas and Dermot Mulroney become the long last brothers and bring the kid fights becoming more dangerous due to their muscle growth. Lucas has the grin which means fishy in every tooth of it. With a physique that could take any hard beat and work is matched by the youth and briskness of Jamie Bell’s Chris. Bell embraces the character of Chris with doing the physical labour and accepting the part of his life. He would grow up to be Deel but John has taught him more than that. With his brother he journeys in to the wilderness and characters native to the area with obvious poetry in the travel.

Nothing much happens in “Undertow” apart from a greedy and enraged Deel chasing his nephews to get his golds and tie the loose ends. There are fairy tale stories told with a personal belief from the adults while there is a grasp of it with doubt and suspicion from the young. With sweat and dirt in their skin, labour is how they define themselves. Emotions are either openly clinical or hidden behind the toughness of their male ego. It is of course how the things are learned in when there are devoid of hallmarks and special days. “Undertow” is a film of its own kind with nothing much than a lyrical liking of a director taking inspiration from the other best, Terrence Malick known for poetic films.

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