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“Mud” – Review (POSITIVE)

May 20, 2013

Mud (2013) Matthew McConaugheyThere are very few drama’s that come along where the films stars are kids, and they maintain a certain amount of honesty, integrity, and all around realistic emotion to the characters they have help created. “Mud” is indeed one of those rare gems, writer/director Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”) returns with another rural dramatic thriller about trust and honor, two very common themes that run throughout this little southern fable.

Two teenage boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) & Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) live down on the banks of a river in Arkansas. One day the boys sneak out early and set out to an island on the Mississippi River, where Neckbone has discovered an unusual sight-a boat, suspended high in the trees, a remnant of an extreme flood some time in the past. They climb the tree and into the boat only to find fresh bread and recently made footprints. Realizing that they are not the only ones who have discovered the treehouse boat, they decide to leave. When they reach the shore, they find the same footprint in their boat. And that’s when they meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Mud is a gritty, superstitious character; his clothes are dirty, his tooth is cracked, and he needs help.

Mud tells the boys he will give them the treehouse boat, his current hideout, in exchange for food. Neckbone is reluctant, but Ellis brings food to Mud, and they develop a tentative friendship. Ellis learns that Mud has killed a man in Texas. The police and bounty hunters are out looking for him, but Mud is more concerned about reuniting with his longtime love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Ellis, who has recently developed his own crush, agrees to help Mud escape with Juniper. Ellis and Neckbone carry out bold schemes in an effort to protect Mud and relay messages to Juniper, who is holed up in a scummy motel, under constant surveillance by Carver (Paul Sparks), a Texas bounty hunter. Carver and his gang are intent on capturing Mud, on orders from the cold-blooded boss, ‘King’ (Joe Don Baker). As the boys risk everything to reunite these seeming mythical lovers, Ellis’s own ideas about love and romance are challenged by the strains in the relationships closest to him. Through it all, Ellis struggles to look for an example of love that he can believe in, learning about the unspoken rules and risks of love and the reality of heartbreak.

The strong dynamic between Mud and Ellis is really what makes the movie work on a level I don’t think many audiences were anticipating. When it comes down to it, these two are cut from the same cloth and resemble a lot of same ideologies about love and the will to fight for it. Mud’s own actions regarding Juniper have led him down a dark road, which dumped him off in the predicament that he’s found himself in. Ellis’ relationship with a high school senior is clearly a tamer parallel two Mud’s love for Juniper. Ellis & Mud quick think to irrational conclusions about their loves, which could lead to violent tendencies. Mud has killed for Juniper because the thought of any other many having her, not mention treating her in the worst physical and emotional statement of mind, is a trigger for Mud. Ellis’ relationship is too quick and rushed, but not for the wrong reason’s narratively. Ellis is cocky, and feels that if he can get a senior as a girlfriend, he’s made it. Hell, Ellis had beaten up a senior boy just to prove his point in front of the girl.

So, where does this leave Ellis and Mud at the end? While not getting into deep spoiler territory, I believe that these two found ways to justify there means in a spiritual sense, but at the same time found a way to come to terms with it in a realistic notion. Ellis ends up living with his mother in town, instead of living near the water, and we see him eye another girl in the community he lives in, has he learned his lesson, or was this girl a sort of sign for his own future? It’s a little bit of both, the audience wants to feel just as coy as Ellis did early in the film, that maybe he hasn’t learned his lesson, because in actuality he’s just a kid and he will always be one, till the day where manhood overshadows childhood, and there in lies Mud. It’s a funny thing where his ‘old man’, the father figure so to speak, tells Ellis that Mud has always been a child when it came to love. If you ask me that’s a heavy use of foreshadowing on our young Ellis. Will he become like Mud?

The movie may suffer just a tad when it comes to pacing, but overall I really loved this movie. I can’t imagine the Academy not recognizing Tye Sheridan & Matthew McConaughey. “Mud” is bolstered by a strong performance from it’s lead, it offers an engaging Southern drama that manages to stay sweet and heartwarming without being sappy and/or campy. Much like Nichols previous film “Take Shelter” it manages to his every emotional note on the dot.

GRADE: A-

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