Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mud (2012)



Written & Directed By: Jeff Nichols

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

The Hubby and I saw this in the theater in downtown Charlottesville, a rare splurge in honor of our 23rd anniversary. Even rarer was the fact that we were both equally excited about seeing a newly released film.

Fourteen-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) lives on the Mississippi River, in rural Arkansas, with his parents. He helps his father (Ray McKinnon) earn a living off the river, catching and selling fish. In his down time, he and his buddy Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) explore on the river, a bit like a modern-day Tom and Huck.
The boys discover a homeless man, "Mud" (Matthew McConaughey), stranded on a small island. Ellis is intrigued by the man and feels compassion for him. As the boys discover Mud's secrets, they agree to help him evade trouble and reunite with the woman he loves (Reese Witherspoon). Watching his parents' marriage dissolve and in the throes of his first serious crush, Ellis needs to believe in the strength of this relationship, and in the possibilities of long-term love, and see their story end well.

At moments, this film seemed to skirt a bit too close to being a typical, predictable coming of age story. But it proves to be much more than that because of the richness of the storytelling and character development, outstanding performances, and stunning cinematography as well as some unexpected plot twists that make this movie quite a ride.

The cinematography is gorgeous -- many frames seem like works of art. The film closely observes the vibrant natural world in the muddy flatlands, revealing beauty and wonder in a terrain many people would find dull.

In keeping with this naturalistic slant, the world and people this filmmaker created seem incredibly real. I felt like a voyeur in the characters' real world rather than a viewer of a Hollywood filmmaker's rendition of a tough working class life. At the same time, there is a slightly eerie, mysterious quality.

All the characters, including minor ones, are multifaceted and more complex than they initially appear. I loved the fact that the characters surprised me. For example, I was engrossed with Ellis's dad -- I loved his character arc. In the first scene of the movie, I saw him barricaded behind his newspaper while his wife Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson), clearly emotional, tried to talk to him. At that moment, I almost wrote him off. But he evolves from a man who's doing his best to be an effective husband and father, simply by providing for his family and teaching his son a strong work ethic, to someone who openly wants an emotional connection. His growth was compelling and real because it's handled with subtlety. His character, and other men in the movie, also helped me see women and relationships from the point of view of an "old school" kind of male.

I also appreciated the men's awkwardness in communicating with women, and their constant struggle between desire and longing and estrangement and frustration. This is what many, if not most, relationships are like in the real world. I love the fact that when Ellis wants to learn to talk to a girls, he has to rely on Neckbone's uncle, Galen (Michael Shannon), who clearly lacks polish in that area. Galen offers Ellis a helpful book on the mystery of communicating with the opposite sex ("Be sure to do the worksheets in the back.") I could've used a book like that, on talking with guys, when I was that age.

Another point in favor of this movie: Sam Shepherd in a fabulously quirky, kick-ass role! It had been too damn long since I'd seen that man on screen.

Mud is an absorbing story about love, estrangement, and yearning, and about how profoundly difficult it is to really know another person or understand the complex connections that make up their lives. While at first glance, it seems to be a familiar coming of age tale, the storytelling, acting, and cinematography are woven together to create something truly unique.

17 comments:

  1. I caught this yesterday and really enjoyed it as well. I wanted a bit more Michael Shannon, though!

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    1. I would have liked him to get more screen time too. :)

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  2. Oh my! There have been a few full scores given to this one. Now I'm even more curious about this one. For some reason I didn't realize Michael Shannon is in this as well, very cool. Great review Steph!

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  3. "...and their constant struggle between desire and longing and estrangement and frustration. This is what many, if not most, relationships are like in the real world."

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

    This is probably the main reason I enjoyed this movie so much. You said it perfectly. Well done! Glad you liked the flick.

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  4. Excellent review! Glad you got to see this on the big screen. Your review makes me want to revisit the film as soon as possible. It looks like one that will only improve on multiple viewings.

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    1. Thanks, Josh! I am looking forward to seeing this again, too. I'll probably buy it when it comes to DVD.

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  5. Yeah, definitely two thumbs up on this movie. The actors did a great job in this. Good review, darling wife.

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  6. When I told my stepmom we were going to the movies (while she was babysitting for us) she told me that "Mud was good." I thought that this must have been an autocorrect failure until I saw it listed on the marquis. I haven't seen a preview for it but it looks like one that I'd enjoy. Not sure I could convince Scott of the same, though. PS--your husband's comment above made me smile.

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    1. *LOL* It is an unusual title for a movie. I hope you get a chance to see it, Trish.

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  7. Awesome review! Can't wait to see this one, especially that Sarah Paulson is in it.

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  8. wow, 5/5! Can't wait to see it. Has been compared to Stand By Me (1986), which obviously is a coming of age drama as well(and one of my childhood favorites)

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    1. I really like Stand By Me too. This film isn't all that similar to Stand By Me, but it did remind both John and me a little of that movie, especially since one of the young actors looks kind of like River Phoenix at that age.

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  9. A rating mentioned at the beginning is sure a great idea because it intrigues people. I never heard of this movie and might have scrolled down without reading if not for that 5stars.

    Reading the storyline doesn't sound like a great movie tho...but I am truly intrigued with your description. Will wait for it in DVD

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