While it might be an unenviable existence for those of us on this side of the screen, there is plenty of evidence that suggests the redneck South of the US is an action packed and interesting place to live indeed.
John (Dermot Mulroney) is a single dad trying to carve out a semi-respectable existence while raising two young sons. Chris (Jamie Bell) is the older of the two and no stranger to trouble, while his younger brother Tim is a mop-topped waif of around 11 years of age, prone to eating anything and everything (paint, dirt, you name it) that might cause him sickness.
Life was already hard for the trio, but with John’s efforts and protection it seems progress was being made, and it is mentioned more than once that he may have a few gold coins in his possession gifted to him by his father. Things might not be so bad after all.
Then younger brother Deel (Josh Lucas) shows up unannounced and straight out of prison. While Deel is as ratty and threadbare in appearance as his older bro, his eyes display far more menace and danger, and all three others know it. Deel might be staying for a few days while he finds his feet, but he ain’t here for a family reunion…
Being a young child without a mother, with a father of little means, and living in a harsh and unforgiving environment is not easy. As Chris and Tim discover though it can get harder still. An unexpected moment of great violence has them forced to grow up even faster, and while on the run.
The pair encounter many characters along their journey to nowhere in particular, a kind young couple who cannot have children of their own, a group of orphans, itinerants and runaways that congregate in what is little more than an abandoned junkyard.
Behind Chris’ often vacant eyes is a steely determination and a devotion to his younger brother, who for his part is simply too young to be able to come to grips with the gravity of the situation. They might be young kids growing up fast due to circumstances beyond their control, but they’re still kids.
Undertow moves deliberately at times, with moments of action, violence or drama bursting forth like pent up kinetic energy. It has a story to tell by in reality the story is of secondary importance.
The reason that Undertow is so compelling is its single minded adherence to tone and the quality if the cast, most notably the two young boys. In fact there aren’t too many definitive reasons I can give for someone to track down this film, I just think that you probably should.
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. Like Winter’s Bone more recently, Undertow makes the Southern United States look like another world altogether, and tells a great tale in doing so.