Although he's the darling of many critics, I still don't understand the
fascination with writer/director David Gordon Green and his films GEORGE
WASHINGTON and ALL THE REAL GIRLS. His most recent movie, UNDERTOW, about a
crime within a family, is clearly his best picture yet. Unlike his previous
productions, UNDERTOW has a compelling story underneath the director's
penchant for pacing his pictures just one notch above a dead stop.
The best thing going for UNDERTOW is the script, which is filled with dialog
that is at once natural and poetic. "We'll shave our heads, grow beards and
only speak Apache," Chris Munn (Jamie Bell) tells his younger brother Tim
(Devon Alan) about his plan for them to hide out from their troubles. Their
father, John (Dermot Mulroney), has had a big fight with his brother Deel
(Josh Lucas), which causes Deel to end up chasing Chris and Tim.
The movie opens, however, with a scene that rings false on two notes. Chris
is an older teen who, although poor, does have shoes. He walks a long
distance through rough terrain barefoot -- hard to believe. And when he is
chased, he jumps onto a nail, which goes all the way through the middle of
his foot, coming out two inches above it. He takes a hammer and hits the
nail sideways causing his foot to be attached to the board. Any rational
human being in such pain would have pulled his foot up while holding the
board down. He then walks a long ways with the board attached. Another
episode late in the story is similarly hard to fathom.
Still, the nail in the foot does engender another genuine piece of dialog.
"Hurt -- hurt like crap," Chris tells his dad. After pausing pensively, his
father replies, "Sometimes it's the strange moments that stick with you."
Well, what will stick with you, if you can stay awake during the movie and
not hit rewind if you rent it, is the honesty in the conversations. The
not-exactly-original story and the thinly drawn characters, however, will
soon be forgotten.
UNDERTOW runs a long 1:47. It is rated R for "violence" and would be
acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2004 Steve Rhodes