197 of 221 people found the following review helpful
Well-written, well-acted and very well directed!
, May 3, 2013
This review is from: Mud [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
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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