In all three of his features to date--George Washington, All the Real Girls, and now Undertow--David Gordon Green, who's still under 30, brings a poetic sensibility to portraits of working-class southerners in which storytelling generally plays second fiddle to character and ambience. This time he's experimenting with a fairy-tale thriller that only superficially resembles the work of Terrence Malick (the film's coproducer) and The Night of the Hunter (two kids flee across the wilderness from a murderous adult), two references frequently cited by critics. To these one might add Huckleberry Finn--but the absence of any clearly defined place or period makes Undertow more fanciful than any of them. Despite a few narrative confusions, I found it pure magic. 107 min. Esquire, Landmark's Century Centre.

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