Monday, May 13, 2013

The Second Great Movie of the Year - Mud - My Review

Mud  -  2013  -  Directed by Jeff Nichols

I first became aware of Jeff Nichols with 2007's oddly hypnotic, "Take Shelter." I became convinced of his immense storytelling talent with the brilliant and mesmerizing, "Mud."

Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two 14 year old boys growing up on the river beds of Arkansas living what is their version of an idyllic life which is a cross between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and Stand By Me. As the film opens, Ellis, complete with his flashlight, sets out on his adventure to sneak out of his house and head up river in his boat to an island off the Mississippi River. As he leaves his house he hears the first ominous notes of his life changing as his parents, Senior (Ray McKinnon) and Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson), are bitterly embroiled in an argument.

The two boys make their way to the island and find a boat dangling among the trees. Ellis immediately sees the potential of it being their boat, their treehouse. As they search through the boat Neckbone finds some Penthouse magazines and Ellis finds canned food and bread, they are not the only one's who know about the boat. As they head back to the shore they see footprints and then they meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey).

Mud, for all intents and purposes, is hiding on the island. To the boys he is a mysterious figure who pays attention to them and offers advice. Mud is deeply in love and awaiting the arrival of Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and the boys relate to that as they are just beginning to notice girls and in one especially poignant scene Ellis receives his first kiss and Tye plays the moment perfectly.

As the boys spend more time with Mud they begin to learn secrets and are swiftly pulled into the adult world and all its consequences. I want to be careful and not mention any spoilers so I will say no more about the plot.

Much needs to be said about the actors though. The two boys, Tye and Jacob are revelations. While Tye was previously in "Tree in Life" this is Jacob's first role and they are both equally great. There are no pretensions here. These 2 are not typical child actors. They so assuredly inhabit these roles that they are destined to receive more work should they choose it. Reese Witherspoon is captivatingly audacious as Juniper, its easy to see why Mud fell for her and easy to see why he should let her go.

As great as the rest of the cast is this is about Matthew McConaughey. Recently he has taken a different path and gotten away from the rom-coms and this is a career defining performance. His Mud is superstitious, rebellious, reserved, bold, volatile, grandiose and McConaughey hits all the right notes. This deserves to nab him an Academy Award nomination.

The cinematography by Adam Stone is breathtaking. You actually feel like you are along the Mississippi river and might stumble and get bit by a snake. Where as Beasts of The Southern Wild pounded you into submission, "Mud" invites you in and asks you to go on a journey. It is a journey well worth taking. This is one of the best movies of the year.

Rating: 10 out of 10

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