Director David Gordon Green's follow-up to his lauded indie ''All the Real Girls'' features two brothers (Jamie Bell and Devon Alan) in the Deep South on the run from their convict uncle (Josh Lucas), who's after their bag of gold coins. Sounds like a tall tale, and that may be the case: The plot originated with a phone worker on a help line for runaways. ''He got a story from this kid that sounded so far out that we all assume it was -- it sounded like a Robert Louis Stevenson book,'' says Green. The tale got passed on until it landed with director (and ''Undertow'' coproducer) Terrence Malick, who tapped Green to cowrite and direct.
The dark film features Bell in his first starring role since ''Billy Elliot.'' The 18-year-old recalls his off-kilter casting meeting with Green: ''He played me some music [metal-country like 16 Horsepower and minimalist Arvo Pärt] and said, 'If you can imagine pictures of this music, this is what I want the film to be.' I thought, This guy has got some crazy ideas, and I want to be a part of what he has to do.'' Ultimately, Green describes ''Undertow'' as similar to ''a boys' adventure novel of the '50s -- I wanted the poster to be [someone] holding a lantern and pointing at the staircase. I think it's a little too campy, but that's the vein we were going for.''
WHAT'S AT STAKE From ''George Washington'' to ''Girls,'' Green has stepped up with every new film, but the ultra-stylized ''Undertow'' may divide audiences.