Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Reel Review: MUD

After spending a nearly a decade making stupid romantic-comedy films, actor Matthew McConaughey seems intent on reinventing himself. After his chilling and villainous turn in last year’s KILLER JOE, McConaughey teams up with director Jeff Nichols, who last brought us the fantastic and mindblowing character-study in TAKE SHELTER, and now rolls out MUD; another impactful character study nestled in the heartland of America.
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two 14-year old boys who discover an abandoned boat on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River. Living on the boat is a man named Mud (McConaughey), who is wanted by police and bounty hunters for killing a man. The two boys befriend Mud and decide to help him get the boat in the water, where he hopes to run away with his true love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

At its core, MUD is essentially a re-telling of a Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn adventure; two boys cruising the mighty Mississippi in search of something to do in their sleepy and boring town. The movie centers around the relationship they have with Mud, and it is in that relationship that MUD soars. The boys connect with MUD because in him they see a reflection of the lives they are leading; similarities which are revealed slowly throughout the film. A great amount of time is spent on the three characters and it is time well spent. MUD seems to start off as a conventional coming-of-age tale, but eventually morphs into a story about unrequited love…and the two storylines for all three characters run alongside each other perfectly.
Keeping the story afloat is director Jeff Nichols’ commitment to immersing the viewer into the atmosphere of a small Mississippi town; where there is nothing for pre-teens to do but hang out in a parking lot and cruise the river looking for snakes. Nichols literally drops the audience into the middle of things and you can nearly feel the humidity and skeeter-bites. With his beautiful photography and careful attention to his characters, Nichols puts his stamp on the movie without ever letting it become self-promoting.

McConaughey rules the film. His character is a villain who is really a good guy who did bad things for the right reasons. There is an ongoing spiritual conflict in Mud, and McConaughey plays it beautifully. The bulk of the screentime goes to the two young stars, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland. They both handle their parts well although their lines are kept very short and terse; so short and quick you often have trouble catching what they are saying. The screentime of Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, and Michael Shannon amounts to extended cameos, but they all handle their time wisely and perfectly. The movie is nearly stolen by Ray McKinnon, who as a father figure is a perfect blend of tough and fair.
The finale comes about after a few shocking moments that come out of nowhere and seriously gets the heart pounding. The ending is very rewarding because of the great amount of time we had spent with the characters, making MUD an extremely fulfilling film.


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