Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mud: Movie Review

Arkansas, a boat, a tree, two boys, girls, love, snakes and Mud.

Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is the central adult character. He lives in a boat in a tree on an island in Arkansas. And he is dirty. He probably hasn’t bathed in weeks, if not years. He also muddies the truth a bit – just a bit, to reflect his version of the world. Our teenage boy protagonists hesitantly take him at his word – there’s no reason for him to be any less dependable than their own parents and guardian.   2012

Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Screenplay by: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Ray McKinnon

“Mud” is a coming-of-age story primarily of Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and also his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Ellis is pretty disillusioned for all of his fourteen years on this Earth. His parents are unhappy people, finally announcing they’re getting a divorce, but Ellis doesn’t see a place for himself in anybody’s world. He and Neckbone like hanging out on their own, living on the river and plan to own the boat (that’s in a tree on an island in Arkansas).

These are all interesting characters, including the supporting ones that come in and out of Mud’s life and stay in the boys’ lives. The boys remind Mud of himself, and Ellis likely sees Mud as someone who is more representative of his personal dreams and desires than his father or anyone else he has met in his small town. The first half, or more, of the film relies solely on the interaction between Mud and Ellis. A plot isn’t introduced until much closer to the end of the film. Even the theme of the movie isn’t revealed much earlier.

The film has a great score to accompany the water-reflective cinematography. But even better is the atmosphere to keep up the suspense that something interesting is going to happen eventually. At any point you fear the possibility of things going disastrously wrong. You never know if or when the boys’ safety is in jeopardy. A gun in the wrong person’s hands could be bad news; a failed engine in the middle of a swamp could be bad news; even just a snake (of which there were plenty in the movie) could be bad news.

The overall theme is that of love. The love of Mud’s life is currently in town, but the entire state is trying to keep him away from her. Ellis is also in love; especially in love with the idea of being in love. And Ellis really doesn’t understand anybody who isn’t in love. Neckbone at least loves girls in general, so that’ll do for now. The predominant symbolism in the film is snakes. Mud explains that God put them here for us to be afraid of them; we knew to be scared before we were even here. Everything that snakes represent – good and evil, rebirth, guardianship, poison, medicine, vengefulness and vindictiveness – are all in the film.

There are a few returning actors from Jeff Nichols’ previous feature “Take Shelter”. At least one of which will delight indie film fans with his first appearance and it only gets better from there as his character becomes more important to the plot. Although the word “plot” is used loosely. After all, “Mud” is about Mud, Ellis, love and everything that snakes represent.
Best of 2013

Similar Titles:

Django Unchained (2012) - Django’s story of revenge, romance and redemption.

Flight (2012) - Character study boldly blurring the lines of life, happiness and right and wrong.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) - A story of trashy criminals and dirty cops evolving into one about fathers and sons and life.

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011) - A thoughtful ride with characters and intriguing conflicts of innocence and guilt.

The Hunt (2012) - One bad deed, many questionable decisions and never-ending consequences.

The Iceman (2012) - The Iceman lives up to the name but falls a little short on the potential of the story.