R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir David Gordon Green
dir Joe Conway, David Gordon Green
with Jamie Bell, Devon Alan, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, Kristen Stewart, Shiri Appleby, Robert Longstreet, Eddie Rouse, Patrice Johnson, Bill McKinney, Mark Darby Robinson, Pat Healy
release US 22.Oct.04, UK 17.Jun.05
04/US 1h47

On the run: Alan and Bell

bell lucas mulroney

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For their third feature, Green and cinematographer Tim Orr take their lush, freeform style to a much more specific genre--the thriller. More specifically, it's like a loose remake of the 1955 masterpiece Night of the Hunter.

John Munn (Mulroney) lives with his sons Chris and Tim (Bell and Alan) on a falling-down farm in the rural South. Their life isn't easy, but it's not very complicated either, even though Chris is always in trouble and Tim sticks to himself, tasting or smelling anything he finds. Then John's brother Deel (Lucas) arrives for a surprise visit, and it becomes apparent that he's up to something.

As the suspense builds the film shifts into cat-and-mouse mode, which isn't terribly original but suits the gorgeous production values, including a lovely Philip Glass score. The cinematography catches the earthiness--most locations are run-down, overgrown and mud-swamped, but Green and Orr make sure they also get the rich colours of the sky, water, trees and fields. It's the man-made elements that corrupt the view! Their use of black and white, freeze frames, colour manipulation and other tricks is intriguing as well.

Green also maintains an involving tone and characters that really engage us. Bell is superb as the teen struggling with being a grown-up, then forced to take responsibility in a life-or-death situation. Lucas and Mulroney are strong as well--they look so much like brothers that it's almost creepy, especially in the way they interact with each other. Even the side characters are fascinating, and we wonder right along with Chris and Tim if they can be trusted.

There's a timeless storybook quality to the film that lingers beautifully from start to finish--it sometimes feels like a violent 1970s thriller, even though it harks back to a 1950s classic and features up-to-date relational issues. And it's also like a fairy tale--children running through the woods, a mysterious treasure, strangers who may or may not be who they seem. And of course a predator who's a genuine threat, but is dealing with issues of his own.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 22.Oct.04 lff

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2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall