Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mud - Theatrical Review

Release Date: April 26, 2013

"Mud" fascinates with its tale of love and loss and a standout performance from Matthew McConaughey.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 30 Orange
Time: 10:30 pm April 26, 2013   
Projector Type: Digital 2D  
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 2 hr 10 min
Studio: Roadshow Pictures

Loves: Films/stories about damaged people trying to find themselves
Likes: The entire cast
Neutral: The film can feel a little too long at times
Hates: Nothing
Oscar watch: McConaughey could snag a supporting actor nod come awards season

When two young teenage friends Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) go exploring one morning in the back woods they happen upon a boat which is suspended above the ground in a tree from a previous flood. When the two boys try to confiscate it for themselves they come across the boats current resident Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Transfixed by Mud's many tall tales, Ellis decides to help the homeless and destitute man by bringing him supplies and keeping him company as he awaits the arrival of his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Soon however, Ellis discovers that Mud is actually a fugitive on the run from the law and with the town filling up with bounty hunters looking for him, Mud is quickly running out of time as Ellis scrambles to get him out of town safely.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols new feature film "Mud" is a somewhat deceptive film. Acting as more of a cautionary tale of love and loss than the crime thriller it has been selling itself as, it never goes down the road one would expect and it is all the better for it. Instead it opts to use the backdrop of a man on the run as a device to delve deep into the psychology of what compels us to love someone and the hardships of learning when to let go. Putting such devotion towards his characters mixed with a smartly written (if a bit overlong) script, Nichols has delivered one of the best human dramas of the year.

The first thing you should know about "Mud" before laying down that hard earned cash at your local theater is that despite McConaughey's grizzled mug taking up the entire poster, his name headlining every single ad for the film and that he portrays the title character, he is not the star of the film. Acting in more of a supporting role, McConaughey remains on the sidelines for the majority of the film while allowing and supporting relative newcomer Tye Sheridan to take center stage. It is a smart move on his part and one that pays off in spades.

While usually that sort of deception is considered a bad thing, this is one of those unique times where it is a blessing in disguise. McConaughey finds one of his best performances in years playing the mysterious man living in the boat in the trees, Mud. From the first moment he appears on screen we, like the two kids he surprises, are entranced by his friendly demeanor and the slight air of danger that surrounds him. The stories he tells are told with such conviction that it is easy to become enthralled with him just like Ellis does and feel just as upset when it is revealed that Mud isn't as cool and slick as he presents himself, but instead is a deeply flawed but well meaning individual.

The main theme of the film, which is the inability to let something go that we love no matter the consequences for them or ourselves, is revealed through Mud and Juniper's faux relationship. This point is hammered home when we and Ellis learn how Mud has spent his whole life protecting Juniper and considers her to be the love of his life despite the fact that she has never one reciprocated that love. Instead she sluts her way across the state falling in with one abusive boyfriend after another leaving Mud out to dry whenever he steps in to fix the problem and in turn Mud ruins his life for her.

Their tangled mess of a relationship is just the catalyst for the real focus of the film, Ellis. Ellis is a young man who is just now discovering the majestic beauty as well as the everlasting enigma that is woman. His ambitious courting of a local High School girl is a little more than influenced by the stories told to him by Mud. The parallels between Ellis' coming of age love life and Mud's dead end relationship are more than readily apparent when Mud makes mention of how Ellis reminds him of his younger self which Ellis at first takes as a compliment but later becomes more of a warning sign of things to come when Mud's many secrets are revealed.

Then there are Ellis' parents who are at an impass of their own in a relationship that was clearly built off necessity instead of love. Constantly at each others throats and having completely differing ideas on how to live their lives, their tattered relationship serves as a  stark reminder of the consequences when two individuals don't let go when they clearly should have long ago. Making Ellis suffer for their own poor decisions, they have stuck it out in clear defiance of common sense which echoes a slightly similar path that Mud and Juniper are heading down.

Through each of them, Ellis, Mud and Ellis' father, we see the different stages of what happens when two people who think they are supposed to be together really aren't and the resulting pain of what happens when they stubbornly try to fight the odds. That is the brilliance of Nichols script, how it uses Mud's story, and to a lesser degree the story of Ellis' father, to demonstrate Ellis' possible future if he doesn't wake up and realize the one thing that both his father and Mud should have realized long ago, sometimes it is better to let go and move forward.

"Mud" is more than a cautionary tale, it is a life lesson in how love can make us better people but how it can also tear us apart.  This may not be the movie you think it is but in this case that is a good thing. Comprised of a standout supporting performance by Matthew McConaughey as well as a strong starring performance by Tye Sheridan, Jeff Nichols has provided one of the most thoughtful and intimate character-centric films of the year and one that will likely pop up again around awards time next year.





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