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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mud Movie Review

It is time to face up to the fact that Jeff Nichols is no flash-in-the-pan. He is one the best writer-directors working today. First came Shotgun Stories, a powerful tale of middle-America centered upon two sets of half-brothers. Next up was Take Shelter, a story about a man in a small town either going insane or possessing the ability to see things others could not. Now Nichols brings us "Mud", where a man is holed up on an island under mysterious circumstances. Matthew McConaughey is Mud and his career continues on its upswing from films that were, frankly, garbage.

"Mud" is the story of Ellis (Tye Sheridan), a 14-year-old Arkansas boy who is trying to make sense out of life and love. His home life is being torn apart by his parents because their marriage is a slender thread away from its end. Ellis can't process this because he does not understand how two people in love can have problems. There is a girl in his life that interests him, too. She is a little bit older, but at that age "a little bit older" can feel like twenty years of difference. Ellis is fumbling along, thinking he is in love, trying to understand something adults often can't figure out.

Ellis and his buddy Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) have found a boat on an island. What makes this more than ordinary is that the boat is up in a tree, where a storm has deposited it. The boys excitedly claim the boat as their own and dream of getting it down and making it sea-worthy. While going through the boat, Ellis realizes that someone has recently been in the boat. That someone is Mud, a man who we find out is hiding. Ellis takes to him immediately. Neckbone is far more hesitant, wondering what Mud is all about. When Ellis finds out that Mud is in love with a girl that he cannot have, his bond to Mud becomes powerful. It is this bond that makes everything happen.

There are no false performances in "Mud" and it is difficult to say who does the best job. There are compliments enough to pass around the entire cast, with some of the smaller roles being as good as the leads. As much promise as McConaughey has recently displayed, this role cements his reputation as a legitimate dramatic actor. The credit obviously goes to McConaughey, but a huge assist goes to Mr. Nichols who helped propel Michael Shannon's career. Shannon starred in both of Nichols' previous films and he is here once again, but this time in a secondary role.

Nichols has clearly demonstrated that he loves to mine small-town America and who can blame him. No one is any better at it in current cinema. "Mud" reminded me a little bit of Rob Reiner's "Stand By Me" in that it elicits natural performances from its young stars and in how it flows like a well-written novel, but it's not just that. His films have a nice appearance, too. I don't mean that they are pretty to look at. Rather, they all display almost a lack of color. Everything in the background is muted so that our attentions will be held by the actors. Ever since I saw "Shotgun Stories" I wondered where Nichols's career would go. Now it's clear. He is an American gem.

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