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Starring Dermot Mulroney, Josh Lucas, Devon Alan and Jamie Bell
Screenplay by David Gordon Green and Joe Conway
Directed by David Gordon Green

IN SHORT: snail paced arthouse fare. [R for violence.]

Not only is this film based on a true story, it tells us that fact twice at the very beginning of the first reel, along with a wee bit of information that will clue in those who can't wait and be surprised for a major part of the story. Film makers should stick with "based on a true story" and leave it at that, IOHO.

As Undertow begins, it is quickly established that father John Munn (Dermot Mulroney) loves his boys and they he. Tim (Devon Alan) is a sickly kid -- bad stomach -- and has just turned 10 as the story begins. Brother Chris (Jamie Bell) is roughly 13, and known to be constantly in trouble with The Law. Both love each other as much as they do dad. That means there ain't no conflict there to mine for drama, and it feels like a good long time until we get some. That is thanks to the sudden and surprising return of a black sheep brother, Deel (Josh Lucas). Neither kidlet has ever seen their uncle for he has been in prison for a good long time for crimes undetailed.

Set in the mountains in an unnamed State so rural that it takes 3/4 of the film before it is established that the house has a telephone, Undertow is a film only a film student could love. It takes t he pace of a slow mountain town to heart, and that pace kills the film. Yes, it gives the director time to establish the relationships between all characters, but there isn't much to them to make up for the time it takes to get to the point. That point involves some gold coins stolen by John and Deel's father, coins John says were confiscated by Authorities when their dad was arrested. Deel doesn't buy the story and the turn the story then takes is the only interesting thing to report, which is why we won't say anything more than someone chases the other someone(s). Hardcore film students have been furnished with enough information -- gold coins, criminal uncle, pair o' boys -- that they can pretty much figure the whole story out, excepting the details and a bit of the supporting stories.

The shame is that the second half of the film is quite good. A heavier hand on the first half, either in the script writing process or in the editing could have made Undertow a potentially great movie.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Undertow, he would have paid . . .



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