Undertow is a 2004 psychological thriller film directed by David Gordon Green, starring Jamie Bell, Devon Alan, Dermot Mulroney and Josh Lucas. Taking place in Georgia, the film tells the story of two boys pursued by a murderous uncle.
Undertow is Green's third feature film. Met with a mixed response from critics, the film received special recognition for excellence in filmmaking from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. In addition, Jamie Bell and Devon Alan won Young Artist Awards for their roles in the film.
Following the death of his wife Audrey, John Munn (Dermot Mulroney) moves with his two sons, mid-teen Chris Munn (Jamie Bell) and adolescent Tim Munn (Devon Alan), to a pig farm in rural Drees County, Georgia, where they lead a reclusive life.
Chris is the protagonist, a troubled teen rebelling against this life in ways where he is regularly picked up by the police. The story of the film is one of greed and family hatred. It begins when John's brother Deel (Josh Lucas) visits the Munn family, whom the two boys did not even know existed. Deel who has just been released from prison stirs up unease among them. It turns out that Deel wishes to reclaim a hoard of gold coins from John. He eventually finds them hidden behind John's family portrait. John refuses to give them up. In the ensuing struggle, Deel murders him. He tries to kill Chris and Tim too, but they escape him and run away from home. Chris brings the gold coins along with him.
On the run, the boys meet an assortment of fairytale-like characters. Deel pursues them, eventually catching up. Wading into a river, Chris throws away the gold coins into the water. Enraged by their loss, Deel struggles with Chris and tries to drown the boy. In turn, Deel receives a fatal stab wound in the chest.
Chris appears to wake up in hospital. There, he is reunited with Tim and their grandparents.Jamie Bell - Chris MunnDermot Mulroney - John MunnDevon Alan - Tim MunnShiri Appleby - VioletJosh Lucas - Deel MunnTerry Loughlin - Officer ClaytonRobert Longstreet - BernEddie Rouse - Wadsworth PelaPatrice Johnson - Amica PelaCharles "Jester" Poston - Hard Hat DandyKristen Stewart - Lila
The film received mixed reviews from film critics, whose responses ranged from admiration to derision. On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently holds a "rotten" rating of 55% based on 116 reviews. On Metacritic, the film earned a metascore of 63% based on 30 reviews.
Among the critics who gave the film a positive review were Roger Ebert, who praised the film, giving it a full four stars. He wrote of the director, "Green has a visual style that is beautiful without being pretty. We never catch him photographing anything for its scenic or decorative effect." Ebert would later place the film 10th on his list of the best films of 2004. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a favorable review, calling it an "art film posing as a backwoods gothic thriller." Eric Harrison of the Houston Chronicle wrote, "From its opening lines and first enigmatic image, everything about Undertow is both dreamlike and real, artfully elusive and matter-of-fact." James Berardinelli gave it three out of four stars, giving praise to the performances, and writing, "Those going to Undertow expecting a thriller will find the proceedings slow going. However, those who are seduced by the characters and the setting will find that the 105 minutes pass quickly." The Washington Post's Stephen Hunter thought the film conjured up the 1955 thriller The Night of the Hunter, and wrote, "the movie builds slowly to its grinding climax, and the suspense – the standard by which a thriller must primarily be judged – is first-rate."