MRR Review: "Mud"

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A Southern drama film reminiscent of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", Mud tells the tale of two teenage boys who encounter a fugitive (played by Matthew McConaughey) hiding out in Mississippi. They make a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to ultimately reunite him with his lost love (Reese Witherspoon).
3.5

MRR Review: "Mud"

-- Rating: PG-13 (violence, sexual references, smoking, language, thematic elements)
Length: 130 minutes
Release Date: April 26, 2013
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Genre: Drama

Imagine being a child living in rural Arkansas who found a small boat stuck up in a tree, tangled in the branches as the result of a recent flood. It would make quite a tree house, which is exactly what Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are thinking when they climb the branches, only to have their hopes dashed because the boat is already occupied by a murderer. This is the situation that Ellis and Neckbone are faced with in "Mud," the third film from writer/director Jeff Nichols.

Luckily, for the two boys, Mud (Matthew McConaughey) means them no harm, even though he has already killed one man. He tells them the story of the love of his life Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who he says is a dream that you don't want to wake up from. Juniper loves Mud, but she has a wayward heart and leaves him for another man who is violent. After he beats her, Mud is enraged enough to follow him all the way to Texas to kill him in retaliation for beating Juniper. The victim's father King (Joe Don Baker) is unhappy with the detectives on the case and their inability to find and arrest Mud, so he decides to take matters into his own hands. He gathers a group of thugs and heads to Arkansas to find and kill Mud himself.

Ellis, who is lovesick himself and finding it hard to deal with the lack of love in his parents' relationship, believes Mud. In fact, he not only believes him, he likes the guy, who is as charismatic and friendly as they come. He decides to keep his secret and help him find Juniper so they can run away together and get out of the crosshairs of King and his gang. As the trio devises a plan to fix the boat, Ellis begins to suspect that Mud may be putting more tall tales than facts into his stories. He has to figure out whether to stay loyal to Mud or go with his instincts, which are screaming for him to abandon his enigmatic friend before he puts himself in danger.

For years, McConaughey has been known best for his roles in romantic comedies like "Failure to Launch" and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," to name a few. He was good as the lead in these films, but it was his supporting turns in films like "A Time to Kill" and "Amistad" that made critics scratch their heads over his reluctance to do more drama. "Mud" is the fifth in a streak of dramatic and sometimes downright dark films that McConaughey has made that includes "Bernie" and "Killer Joe." He seems to be purposely trying to shed at least some of his beefcake image and become a serious actor, and it is working. He turns in a fine performance in "Mud" that proves he is more than just a pretty face and rock-hard abs.

He shares most of his scenes in the film with Sheridan, who is in nearly every scene as Ellis. Sheridan had only been in one other film prior to this one, so the audience could forgive him if he stumbled on occasion with the very emotional material. Fortunately, the young actor is so good that he gives McConaughey and the rest of the veteran cast a run for their money. The pain in his eyes is apparent when he reflects on his parent's doomed marriage and how his school crush won't give him the time of day. It's both a sorrowful and life-affirming performance in equal measures that many viewers will be able to relate to in one way or another.

Nichols wrote the script with a deft hand, clearly knowing what he wanted the film to focus on. In the hands of a lesser writer, the script could have easily detoured into melodramatic or TV movie-of-the-week territory. Instead, he wrote a focused film that gets the audience to root for an admitted murderer without thinking twice. Nichols also directed the film, so he knows exactly how to frame his characters to get the most out of the story and actors. The result is a touching film that is as unpredictable as life itself, even when dealing with mundane day-to-day tasks. This is the third film he has written and directed, all of which were set in rural areas, with plenty of beautiful cinematography to showcase the setting. With the combination of smart writing, gorgeous photography, and great performances, don't be surprised to see Nichols get a much bigger Hollywood profile in the near future.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5