Friday, May 10, 2013

MUD (2013)

Rated: PG-13

Stars: Matthew McConaughey,  Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon, Jacob Lofland, Ray Mckinnon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson

Director: Jeff Nichols

Genre:  Drama

Mud has a little bit of everything--mystery , suspense, romance, rednecks, rootin' tootin' shoot 'em up action,  angst, rednecks, young love, and... uh...rednecks. The cast--many of them with southern roots, including  Matthew McConaughey and Reese Witherspoon--are convincingly  "redneckish."

McConaughey is the  loose cannon known as "Mud," whom we find  hanging out on this small island in the Mississippi river. He is discovered there by two adventurous 14 year-old  boys:  Ellis, (Tye Sheridan)  and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland).  Mud has dirt on him throughout most of the movie--especially on his hands--but he doesn't care, and he eats beans from a can with his fingers. (It's never really explained why his name is Mud, but that's what everybody who knows him calls him too. When you're covered with dirt, I guess that's what you get when it rains). Mud  is trying to avoid an unpleasant encounter with the law and a gang of bounty hunters who are on his tail for the killing of a man who was mean to his one and only love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).

Witherspoon calls upon her Tennessee roots to channel a simple kind of gal in blue jean cutoffs who is waiting in town to hook up with Mud again when the moment is right. Unfortunately, she gets distracted by other men during her vigil, and it gets back to her longtime lover. Part of what Mud is about is the emotional rolllercoaster Mud and Juniper are riding with one another. But it's just as much a coming of age story about the two boys--particularly Ellis--who goes around trying to punch out people who are bigger than him, (in some instances successful, in some not) mostly when he sees a girl being mistreated. In that sense, he is a chip off the old block for Mud, and maybe that's why he takes a shine to the fugitive and believes in his innate goodness. Ellis is more than willing to do the mud man's bidding, which is primarily to act as emissary between Mud and Juniper.    

We're supposed to root for Mud, because he has shown his tender side with his love for and devotion to Juniper. But he has gotten himself into quite a jam...or pickle...or any other food metaphor you want to use, and how he's going to extricate himself won't be determined until Tom, his surrogate father figure from the past, (Sam Shepard) weighs in. Tom is a former sharpshooter with the Marines, and he will have something to say about the outcome before it's all said and done. 

Mud, which starts off  kinda slow, keeps building like a bonfire where more and more kindling is being heaped onto it--and some A-hole has tossed some cherry bombs in there too--leading to an explosive climax that will give action fans plenty of what they want.  

There are numerous subplots--including  Ellis's infatuation with an older girl, which is going to teach him something about women; and the sad state of affairs surrounding Ellis's parents, (Ray McKinnon & Sarah Paulson) who are breaking up, and are too distracted to do much parenting, though his father tries in his  ineffectual way. While McConaughey's performance here is being touted as Oscar worthy, not much due is being given to McKinnon's sensitive and multi-layered portrayal of a man whose world is slowly crumbling around him. It should be noted. He is the true tragic figure in this film.

Ultimately, Mud is pretty unrealistic, but most movies are. The fine performances here overshadow that little detail. Tye Sheridan, as Ellis, gets to show his emotional range, and he is going to turn into a fine actor. With Lofland, we can't really tell, because not much is required of him other than a sidekick's monosyllabic responses here and there. But I swear by looking at these two kids that they were both in Stand By Me--but then, they would be a little long in the tooth for that by now.

Grade:  B +