Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mud: A Tale About Losing Your Illusions

Matthew McConaughey has had something of a renaissance in the last few years. After a strong start to his career, he became the go-to guy for lightweight romantic comedies and low-grade action thrillers. But with recent films like Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street and Killer Joe, he’s back at the top of his game. He gives an excellent performance in Dan Nichols’ Mud (2012), a coming of age tale set in Arkansas. Two boys, Ellis & Neckbone, learn of a boat stuck in a tree on a small island on the Mississippi River. They head there to find the craft, and find a man named Mud living in it. He says he’s there because he’s going on to meet the woman he loves. Mud promises them they can have the boat when he’s done with it. The boys just need to help him repair it, and bring him food & supplies while he’s on the island. Mud fascinates them with tales of loves lost, murder & dangerous men, and explains why he seems to be on the run.

As the story progresses, we learn nothing is quite as it seems. Mud has secrets he’s not telling the boys. His girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), isn’t quite what she appears, and the true story of Mud & Juniper’s relationship has yet to be told. One of the boys, Ellis (masterfully played by Tye Sheridan) comes to idolize Mud, and believes the grandiose stories of romantic love Mud tells them. But Mud’s real story is far more complicated. Meanwhile, Ellis’ parents are having their own issues, and he will learn some hard truths about life. The problems of the grown ups in Ellis' life are about to come crashing down on him. This is a powerful story about losing your childhood views regarding the world, and seeing it with adult eyes for the first time. Sometimes, becoming an adult means putting away some of the illusions you have about the way the world works. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s part of life. Everyone in the story will face some harsh truths about the world before it's over, even Mud.

The cast is excellent across the board, with Sheridan, McConaughey and Witherspoon leading a solid core of character actors in supporting roles, including Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Ray McKinnon (Sons of Anarchy), Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff) and Michael Shannon, who was so good as Zod in  2013's Man of Steel. Writer-director Nichols has a real feeling for this part of the country, and there’s a tremendous sense of place & atmosphere that pervades the film. Location becomes a character in this compelling tale. This is a movie with a deep emotional core, and a moving story that will touch your heart. It never becomes fake, predictable or sappy. This is one of those "under the radar" independent films that is well worth seeing. Highly recommended. Mud is available on DVD, Blu-ray and for digital download. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

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