Sunday, April 7, 2013

DIFF 2013 Review - MUD: Javi's Take

Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson, and Sam Shepard
Synopsis: When two young boys go exploring around the Mississippi River and find a boat up in a tree, they come across a stranger named Mud, who enlists their help so he can escape from the law.

Director Jeff Nichols has had a seemingly good streak regarding his movies. His last movie, the highly acclaimed TAKE SHELTER, starring Michael Shannon, was one the most highly praised and most debated movies during 2011. The tale of a father struggling through the visions of an impending doom that no one else could see created some of the best conversations during the "Best Films of the Year" time among critics.  While I never got see that movie, I knew that Nichols was already a very confident and acclaimed director.

In his last endeavor, MUD, follows two young best friends, Ellis and Nick "Neckbone", who stumble on a man while checking out a new boat they discovered during a trip down the Mississippi river. The man, expertly played by Matthew McConaughey, is very reminiscent of the cool uncle that most of us have had. The type of uncle who gives us our first sip of beer, who introduces us to death metal, or even lets us shoot a gun for the first time. Mud is running away from the law and has to hide so he enlists Ellis and Neckbone to get supplies for him to survive and then eventually escape using the boat. What the kids don't realize is the big trouble that Mud is in, and they quickly become entangled in his problems.

The story quickly reveals itself to be a parallel coming-of-age film, where both Ellis and Mud are learning the same lessons about love in the same painful manner, even if one is  25-30 years younger than the other. Mud is learning the truth that maybe the myth of "true love" and loyalty that he has with Juniper, played by a ridiculously trashy Reese Witherspoon, ends up being the same as poor Ellis who learns that not all things are as they seem when it comes to love and the hard lessons that come with that. While Mud's story deals with Juniper, Ellis' story is with Pearl, a girl younger than him. One force of influence of Ellis comes from his parents where his dad is the one that's telling him that women are going to hurt him and that he better be prepared for it. Whereas Ellis is learning from Mud the dangerous proponent of the "one true love" credo, which is what has led Mud into trouble. Whichever side you personally land on, Nichols explores both sides of the issue with a relatively balanced point of view. 

The highlight of the movie has to be the kids and McConaughery. The chemistry that they have is amazing, and you can precisely track the way that their relationship goes from being casual to what appears to be a very mutual friendship and respect by both parties. McConaughey has up until the last year been dismissed as a ridiculously stoned pretty boy, but he has begun to break that mold. The man who was in the seminal HOW TO LOOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS has all but disappeared into Mud. The character's emotions are all over the place as he goes from being a cool and collected loner that reminds one of the cool uncle, to a man whose world and well-made plans become unhinged. 

Since I can't compare Nichols directing to his previous movies, I have to say that I am impressed with his camera work. He portrays the way of life of the people of Arkansas near the Mississippi’s in all of its ugly beauty. You see the house that Ellis lives in and how broken down it has become, and you see the life that his parents are only able to provide to him, and you know that's it not optimal. But never do you get the feeling that it's a bad life. In fact, a good portion of the movie deals with Ellis and his dad struggling to be able to maintain their river dwelling way of way of life. There is a new law that was passed that is allowing the government to be able to take away people's river-side dwelling away and forcing them to relocate to the suburbs. The point of the law is a little confusing as there was not a really good explanation as to why it was put into effect. All that one could ascertain from the movie was that this was something bad for Ellis and his Dad. 

I'm not sure if it has been Harmony Korine retrospective that I did with Jonesy recently, but there's a certain romance to the portrayal of the simple way of life, and it felt very refreshing to see. While Korine has been known to only focus subject matter that he wants to criticize, Nichols seems to actually celebrate and respect it. And to add this to the film's merit, there's a lot of gorgeous camera work going on. The Mississippi river has never looked so wonderful and expansive in a recent movie. 

MUD goes into some very interesting places with the way those ideals with this coming-of-age story. The film contains some of the best writing in terms of dialogue and story in recent memory. As the guys from Filmspotting have said, Nichols is going on a hot a streak. I personally can't wait to see what he does next with his next movie.

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