> Volume 6 > Number 31


David Gordon Green

Jamie Bell
Devon Alan
Josh Lucas
Dermot Mulroney

Release: 29 Oct. 04



“The South is just someplace that people don’t really get right. In terms of locations or feelings, there’s so much that goes unnoticed. There are so many corners that are unexposed and people and voices that haven’t been heard in movies.”

David Gordon Green made a mark for himself by succeeding in showing that south he complained was untouched by most movies. In George Washington and All the Real Girls, he struggled with characters who are stuck in a cruel southern milieu, their location as detrimental to their upward mobility as their ambitions. Both were lethargic dramas that asked the audience to stay with the production no matter how unnecessary some of the set pieces may become, almost always with some payoff.

None of this is true with Undertow, a showy third film that reeks of a sophomore slump. The freedom his previous works have afforded him unfortunately put it in Green’s craw that he should attempt an adventure film with a irony-free 1970s aesthetic. With sepia filters, paused images, and sudden zooms, he succeeds in getting some of the technical touches right, but his adherence becomes obsessive -- four pauses for the same shot is painfully ostentatious.

The lack of self-restraint goes far beyond the film’s look, which couldn’t be more rote. This is a story that has minor nuggets of insight (a scene with a lonely black couple is especially engaging) amidst a collage of idiotic contrivances and illogical twists. None of the actors become truly compelling (especially Josh Lucas channeling Bill Pullman in Frailty) as Green forces them to run around the rural south with only a pitiful purpose (the story pirated gold and the pair of siblings who are divided over it isn’t particularly engaging). Usually intimate and astute in his statements, Green becomes sloppy with his storytelling as some of his assertions become oppressively obvious. If this is the South Green intends to elucidate the cinematic intelligentsia to, count me out of the filmmaker’s once crowded cheering section

©2004, David Perry,, 30 July 2004