David Gordon Green’s latest feature joins ‘Mean Creek’ and ‘Palindromes’ in offering a kind of nasty pastoral, a child-centred tale of selfish violence played out against the indifferent splendour of American woodland. Living on a shabby Georgia farmstead with their sullen, widowed dad John (Dermot Mulroney), Chris (Jamie Bell) is a hard worker with a bad rep, little bro Tim (Devon Alan) a delicate flower who eats paint and organises his books by smell. Trouble arrives in the shape of their slithery-charming uncle (Josh Lucas), a prison escapee determined to retrieve a cache of semi-mythic gold coins that he thinks John has hidden. The consequences play like ‘Night of the Hunter’ out of Cain and Abel. Although more action-oriented than Green’s ‘George Washington’ or ‘All The Real Girls’, the plot’s picaresque pursuit is mapped on to his familiar impressionistically sun-woozy South, a timelessly impoverished rust-and-grass milieu of train-hopping and drinking from the udder, documented with rough-hewn, handheld zooms and location sound (interwoven with Philip Glass’s wailing juvenile chorales). The attention to nature and ingenuous, pre-adolescent narration again recall Terrence Malick – here acting as producer – but Green’s mode is messier; again concerned with redemption, his film’s quasi-biblical elements and the occasionally schematic feel to the plotting and supporting roles rub up strangely against the beautifully realised naturalism of both central characters and mise-en-scène. Pet effects such as freeze-frame and negative colour also create distance, seeming to aestheticise rather than express the action. But then, life is mess, and the acknowledgement of this is part of what makes Green’s work so potent.