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  • Mud
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Mud
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189 of 213 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 3, 2013
MUD may be the best movie of 2013 through the end of April. I was thoroughly entertained and captivated from the opening moments until the final shot. The movie is so well crafted and acted. It grapples with resonant themes. This is a small movie that never feels small. It's as gripping as any blockbuster thriller...yet is told on a small, personal level.

It all starts with a great script by director Jeff Nichols (who also did the outstanding, but leisurely paced TAKE SHELTER). Nichols is telling a coming-of-age story...and that's about as worn-out an idea as you can think of. Yet even as portions of it feel as familiar as a Mark Twain novel...it's also never less than fresh and invigorating. Nichols has packed his script full of serious themes, yet he never forgets to tell a good story.

The story is set in Eastern Arkansas, right along the banks of the Mississippi. In fact, our hero is Ellis, lives in a houseboat right on the water. His parents (Sarah Paulson & Ray McKinnon) having a crumbling marriage, and Ellis is feeling uncertain about his place in the world and is worried about the seeming transience of love. (And the livelihood his dad makes along the river is also endangered; and tied directly to the failing relationship of his parents.)

One early morning, Ellis and his friend Neckbone (yep, that's the name) take a boat out to an island in the middle of the river. They've heard that there's large boat STUCK UP A TREE. The boat is there, and there's another surprise too. Someone is living in it! The boys meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey), the man on the boat. He's hiding out on this island, waiting to meet up with his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and avoiding the men who are trying to track him down and kill him. This is over-simplifying the situation, but I don't want to spoil it. Suffice it to say that Ellis is drawn to this strange but charismatic man...and offers to help him because he sees in Mud & Juniper another chance to prove the power of true love.

This only skims the surface of the nuances at play in this movie. Nichols the writer also touches on Ellis' first love. He gives Neckbone a peculiar family relationship of his own, because Neckbone is an orphan who lives with his eccentric & magnetic uncle (Michael Shannon). Even Mud has a peculiar father figure (Sam Shepard) that he has a complicated relationship with. Thus, MUD is about boys and their fathers as much as it is about boys learning hard lessons about love.

A lot happens in this movie, but not for one second is it complicated or difficult to follow. Nichols the writer has laid his script out magnificently, and Nichols the director delivers a clear, almost old-fashioned movie. The cinematography is gorgeous and the land (and river) become a character. The acting is outstanding. Characters don't always say what they're thinking, but all the performers show us on their faces what is going on in their hearts. So many movies these days show blank-faced actors hiding their feelings. MUD is old-fashioned in that the characters are clearly presented. The script helps them, but each actor is given room to emote and feel. This makes for a character drama that grabs hold of the viewer from the opening moments. I found it to be a beautifully immersive experience.

McConaughey is fantastic. I've never been his biggest fan, but his Mud is fascinating, frustrating and compelling. It's easy to see why Ellis is drawn to him. And young Tye Sheridan (TREE OF LIFE), who is really our guide through the story, is remarkable. McConaughey will get all the attention, but Sheridan is in the crucial role. If we don't care deeply about Ellis, the film doesn't work. And we care VERY deeply about Ellis. I could almost feel the audience tangibly drawn to him and rooting for him.

And everyone else is terrific too. Shannon & Shepard are swell (is Shannon ever anything less than interesting?). Ray McKinnon (SONS OF ANARCHY) is truly compelling as a man who is truly losing his grip on everything he's held dear. Jacob Lofland plays Neckbone, and is the perfect partner to Sheridan. These two boys have a deep friendship and we totally believe that these two kids WOULD be close friends...even as they have their differences.

Even as I've sat here writing this review, my appreciation for the film has grown as I've tried to put into words just how and why it works so well. I simply admired the movie from beginning to end.

It's not perfect. The female characters are generally unlikeable (even if well performed...Witherspoon is very much cast against type). The climactic confrontation, terrifying as it is, seems a little like it's from another film. But these minor flaws only stand out because the rest of the film is so fantastic. It's been quite awhile since I've been able to recommend a film so whole-heartedly. See MUD at your earliest opportunity!
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267 of 310 people found the following review helpful
"Mud" (2012 release; 130 min.) is the newest film from writer-director Jeff Nichols, who just last year brought us the excellent "Take Shelter" thriller (starring Jessica Chastain). As the movie opens, we get to know two young boys, 14 yr. old Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan) and his best friend Neckbone (played by Jacob Lofland), in a small boat on the Mississippi river, on their way to an island where they have found something incredible: a boat that somehow ended up high in a tree. The boys think the boat is abandoned and want to make it their playground, only to find out that someone is living in the boat: Mud (played by Matthew McConaughey). Mud is a refuge of the law for killing a man who got involved with Mud's on-again, off-again girlfriend Juniper (played by Reese Witherspoon). Mud gains the trust of the boys and convinces them to assist him in getting the boat lowered from the tree. We also get to know Ellis' family, as his mom and dad are going through tough times and are contemplating divorcing. This frightens Ellis as it may lead to having to move away from his beloved house on the river. At this point we are not even half-way through the movie. Is Mud really who he claims to be? Will the boat be lowered from the tree? Do Mud and Juniper find true love? Will Ellis find a way to save his house on the river? To tell you more would ruin your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Several comments: this movie feels like a tour-de-force from Jeff Nichols. Even though "Take Shelter" was itself quite good, "Mud" feels like a quantum leap forward, both in the writing and the directing. The Mississippi river and surrounding Arkansas landscapes play a huge role in the movie, and at time it all feels quite surreal, or at least there is a sense of magic-realism. McConaughey plays another great role (although for me not quite as career-defining as his role in last year's "Killer Joe"). But as much as I like McConaughey, the film is stolen by young Tye Sheridan, who acts and has a screen presence far greater than you might expect. In that sense, and as the movie ultimately is more about Ellis than it is about Mud, the movie could've just as easily have been called "Ellis". Jacob Lofland in the role of Ellis' friend is great as well. The two boys take up a huge amount of screen time, and hence this movie reminded me of that great movie "Stand By Me" from the mid-80s, starring a then young and unknown River Phoenix. Sheridan surely looks to have the talent and the chops to build a long and rewarding acting career.

This movie premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, to generally great acclaim, and for the life of me I do not understand why it has taken almost a year to get the movie finally released in US theatres. The screeing I saw this at this weekend here at my local art-house theatre in Cincinnati was very nicely packed, I'm happy to say. Bottom line, if you are in the mood for a top quality indie movie that is miles away from the standard Hollywood fare, you cannot go wrong with this. "Mud" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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122 of 140 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2013
Genre-wise I would say "Mud" is best described as a coming of age drama thriller. Matthew McConaughey sporting the most terrifying prosthetic dentures in film history outside of the horror genre, stars as the title character Mud. As good as he is in his role and as good as the other adult actors are, the film ultimately belongs to the young teen actors Tye Sheriden (The Tree of Life) and Jacob Lofland (film debut). I actually would love to see these boys get noticed come Oscar season but that isn't likely to happen.

Film Breakdown
After a flood in a small Arkansas town, two teenage boys discover a boat lodged in a tree in a wooded area near the river. They quickly discover that someone resides in the boat's cabin area. The boys soon find out that it is Mud living in the boat and that he is hiding out for reasons I won't say in this review. In no time road blocks are set up to try and find Mud, one of the boys lets Mud know of this development and that is when Mud realizes he must flee by river. There is more to all this involving the Reese Witherspoon character whom is staying in a near by motel and supposed to be joining Mud in this escape plan. Amongst all this our two teens learn some valuable lessons about life and love.

The film is just over 2 hours and also stars Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon and Michael Shannon which I thought would've been great as the bad guy here but Shannon is playing a lot of bad guys lately with "The Iceman", "Man of Steel" and "Premium Rush" that is was also nice to see him play a regular guy and even provide some of the films comic relief.

Overall highly recommended to all audiences! The film has mild language and gun violence, no sex or nudity. I would approve the film for 10 years and up.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon November 21, 2013
WARNING: This is a critique of the movie and contains "spoilers." The movie is worth seeing, with much to enjoy. But see first and read later (if you want to!).

There's a lot to like about "Mud." It's well-cast and well acted, it touches on engaging (and oft-treated issues), and it gives us a glimpse of a way of life in Arkansas that has a distinctive texture for all its difficulties and economic limitations. The problem is, for me, that the movie gets in its own way, so to speak. A rather clear thematic structure is undermined by aspects of the plot that turn the movie into a kind of shoot-em-up revenge thriller, and that seems gratuitous and not particularly expressive of the dominating themes of the movie. These dominating themes have to do with love and with the idea that love is unstable. The idea that love can bring a kind of stability into ones life is one that is cherished by the protagonist, a 14-year-old called Ellis (Yes, that means that Matthew McConaughy isn't the protagonist, despite the film's being named for his character.) Ellis is watching his parents' marriage fall apart for reasons that have to do with their disagreement about continuing to live in a houseboat on the river so that his father can continue to make a precarious living doing what he has always done. His mother has come to a point where she can't stand the precariousness, and she's ready to move out. Both insist that they "love" Ellis, and he loves them, and the inefficacy of his love for them and their once-secure love for each other to keep the family together is deeply troubling to Ellis ( touchingly played by Tye Sheridan). He doesn't want to give up his vision of love as able to effect more than it can, so when he and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) find a man who calls himself Mud hiding out on an island in the Mississippi (where they had discovered a boat stuck in a tree following a hurricane) and when Mud tells them that he is planning to snatch his beloved Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) from under the noses of the family of a man who want to kill him (Mud) for killing a member of the family who had treated Juniper badly, the idealistic Ellis is gung-ho to help love find a way. When Mud reveals that he has been in love with Juniper since he was Ellis's age, then he seems like the perfect example of the perfect lover. So a plan is hatched to get the boat out of tree, have it reconditioned with whatever the boys can find or steal (including an engine!), and use it to have Mud and Juniper make their escape. As the plans go forward, the patriarch of the family seeking revenge on Mud (Joe Don Baker, looking old) arrives in the town (called DeWitt in the movie) knowing that Juniper is there and figuring that Mud must be nearby. Joe Don brings along a bunch of hired guns to make sure that Mud will not escape them.

Well, it all goes pear-shaped. To Ellis's deep disappointment, Juniper (although she claims that she once loved Mud) isn't really all that keen to be rescued by him, and Ellis learns that her relationship with Mud has for years been marked by serial unfaithfulness on her part. In her defense, she tells Ellis that Mud is unreliable and a liar. Ellis is devastated -- this isn't the fairytale romance that he hoped to enable, and he is the more vulnerable because his first awkward attempts to get a girlfriend end in humiliation. He goes back to the island, excoriates Mud, tells him what Juniper has been saying, and rushes off, wanting nothing more to do with him.

So how to wrap this all up? This is where another kind of plot (the thriller) takes over and blurs the thematic clarity. Ellis, in running away from Mud, is bitten by a poisonous snake. Mud, throwing caution to the winds, gets him off the island and to a hospital, but his coming into town in such a dramatic fashion tips off the family and killers who are hunting him. He accepts that he and Juniper have no future and tries to make his escape, but first visits Ellis in his home to say goodbye and patch up their relationship -- he did save Ellis's life, after all. He is followed to Ellis's house by his pursuers, heavily armed, and the scene is set for mayhem. Enter the deus ex machina in the shape of Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard), who has a house across the water from Ellis's family and who has known and looked out for Mud for years -- and who is . . . a sharpshooter with a high-powered rifle (apparently he was either in the Marines or the CIA, depending on whose story you believe). It's all far too convenient; when the shooting starts, he sits on his porch and picks off the bad guys. At the end, he and Mud are heading down the Mississippi on the refurbished boat, Juniper, as well as Mud's illusions, having been left behind.

This Hollywood-ish ending is unfortunate. It distracts from our appreciation of subtler representations of trust and love (between the two boys, for example) or between the fatherless Neckbone and his uncle who looks after him, and even between Mud and Blankenship, perhaps. Unfortunate too, I think, is that the movie isn't all that visually interesting. It looks fine, but there's no visual rhythm to it. But see it for the ambiance and the acting. The boys are very good, and Reese Witherspoon does a fine job in what is really a very small part, as the fadedly pretty, rather slutty and shallow Juniper. Much has been made of McConaughy's Mud -- he does a fine job, and it's not his usual kind of role, but I don't see it as a huge stretch for a professional actor.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2013
While some movies that Matthew McConaughey is in are great, few movies are great because Matthew McConaughey is in them. Now, that may seem like a cheap shot (and it is), but it should be overlooked because Mud represents his best film and performance since 2002's Frailty.

Mud is a slice of Americana. Two young Arkansas boys, Ellis and Neckbone, happen upon a runaway convict hiding out on a deserted island in the Mississippi. McConaughey plays the convict known only as "Mud." He is charming and mysterious, and as his story begins to come into focus, the boys are swayed to help him fix up a broken down boat so he can meet up with his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and escape down the river to freedom. Now if this sounds slightly familiar, perhaps you're thinking of another slice of Americana where two boys try to help a social outcast find his family and escape captivity by traversing the Mississippi River: Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The parallels between Mud and Finn are actually quite numerous, most notably that both examine the trials of a young boy's integrity. Whether or not director and writer Jeff Nichols is intentionally invoking Finn, he has nevertheless created a fine companion to the 1885 novel.

The success of Mud lies in the hands of McConaughey and relative newcomer Tye Sheridan, who plays Ellis. As the unlikely relationship forms between them, Nichols is able to weave in significant observations about fatherhood, childhood, love, and respect. Protection is a recurring motif that truly sits at the heart of the film. In fact, known for taking his shirt off, it is ironic that in Mud, McConaughey's shirt remains on as a symbolic form of protection. Consequently, it is actually quite significant when it is ceremoniously and inevitably removed.

Mud is certainly no technical achievement and will no doubt be lost in the shuffle as the flashy summer blockbusters start releasing, but it is a strong resonating film full of the kind of tension, drama, humor, and realism Mark Twain would be proud of. A-
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32 of 41 people found the following review helpful
Two young boys in small town Arkansas befriend a strange man who appears to be in hiding. They help him make seaworthy an abandoned boat, so that he can get out of the small town. One boy deals with personal issues of girls and divorce while assisting the man elude those who pursue him. Another home run for Matthew McConaughey, this film combines grief, action, and compelling drama in one package that will certainly hold your attention for its two-plus hour duration. The heartthrob actor shows his acting chops in this one, forgoing leading man status (not to mention a shower) to portray a desperate man on the run. This is one of the finest dramatic efforts of the year.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2015
I'll start by saying I'm not a huge McConaughey fan - I feel a little of him goes a long way. So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this movie. McConaughey's "good ol' boy" persona works well as the main character Mud and he plays the fugitive-in-love with subtlety and wry humor. Reese Witherspoon is at her trailer trash best as the object of Mud's almost obsessive love. But it's Ellis and Neckbone (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) who give the most outstanding performances as the two young boys who discover Mud and slowly learn why Mud is hiding out on an island in the Mississippi River. Although the movie centers around Mud, it's really a coming-of-age story about Ellis and how he learns that hurt and change are a part of growing up.

The movie runs long (over 2 hours) and although the ending is a little drawn out, overall Mud is an unexpectedly good movie.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2013
MOvie was slow moving and vague. I rented the movie based on the ratings from Rotten Tomatoes. I don't see what gave it the great rating it got.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2014
I was excited to see this movie because of the reviews I remember seeing it receive in the theater. long story short is my girlfriend and I were disappointed and flat out bored mid way through. the trailer looks good, but don't expect much. I would spend your money elsewhere.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2014
This movie was rather deep. It went far beyond the surface. It was well acted and kept my attention throughout.
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