Undertow is a new, uniquely American dramatic thriller from director David Gordon Green starring Jamie Bell, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, and newcomer Devon Alan. The film is a rough-and-tumble departure for Green, whose first two movies, George Washington and All the Real Girls, drew worldwide acclaim for their quiet, lyrical sensibility. With Undertow, Green marries action, dirt, sweat, and drama as he spins a tale of the violent legacy between two generations of brothers.
Dermot Mulroney plays John Munn, a hardworking father raising two sons, Chris (Jamie Bell) and Tim (Devon Alan), without their mother. John, a hog farmer and taxidermist, keeps his family in an isolated farmhouse in the woods. Chris, the older boy, feels restricted: his father relies on him to do much of the work (Chris’ younger brother Tim is sickly), but Chris knows there’s a world outside the family he’s yearning to explore.
As the film opens, Chris is throwing rocks at a pretty girl’s window. The rocks he throws are too big, he throws them too hard, and next thing he knows he’s running for his life, pursued by an angry father with two guns and a mean dog. Though Chris can run fast, he steps on a long, rusty nail that goes clean through his foot; he gets caught and ends up in jail. His father comes to bail him out, and we learn it’s not the first time. Before going to bed, John takes in some old time religion on TV.
Soon thereafter the family is confronted by the unexpected arrival of John’s brother, Deel (Josh Lucas), just out of jail. Full of charm, swagger, and driving a hot car, Deel is looking to settle an old score. Deel exudes danger, but his brother can’t see it; instead, John offers Deel room and board in exchange for helping out with the boys and the chores. Chris senses Deel is trouble, but he also finds his uncle’s fearsome power seductive.
In a flash of violence, Deel’s lust for revenge boils over and shatters the family: John is murdered, and the film. The boys barely escape with their lives and a sack of gold coins, family heirlooms their father inherited from his father. Deel is wounded but still strong, determined to find his nephews who’ve run off with the treasure he claims as his own. In flight, the boys navigate the countryside and are free to discover new adventures, but they also encounter new dangers. Because Deel is hot on their trail, the boys must seek food and shelter with the utmost care.
In a new city, Chris and Tim discover a hidden pocket of kids who, like them, are alone and living together on the fringes of society. In this new world, Chris meets a young woman named Violet, and they establish a bond. But before long, the brothers’ violent legacy catches up with them. Violet protects Tim while Chris lures Deel into the ultimate confrontation.