Get out your bonfires and your motorboats, we're reviewing Mud!
When two young kids, Ellis and Neckbone(Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) travel to a just-off-coast island and discover a boat stuck in a tree, they want to make it their new hiding spot, but they find a man already living there. His name is Mud(Matthew McConaughey), and he's on the run from some dangerous people while waiting for his girlfriend. Will Ellis and Neckbone help him?
I don't know who it was that first told McConaughey to take roles for psychos and dirtbags, but that person knew what they were talking about. I'm now ashamed to say I'm a Matthew McConaughey fan, as long as he's the crazy one. He shines when he's in films with oddball roles like Killer Joe, Frailty and even Tropic Thunder, and it helps him once again here in Mud. McConaughey has this intensity about him, where whatever crazy story he tells you about how he got to where he is and what he had to do to get here, you believe whole-heartedly. Mud is superstitious, imposing, a bit impulsive, and all kinds of fun when played by McConaughey. I also love that he's finally in a movie in which taking off his shirt is a major plot point.
|McConaughey is best drawn sketchy.|
Mud isn't Mud's story however; it's the coming-of-age story of Ellis as he deals with life lessons, trying to keep everything together as it all unravels around him. Ellis's folks are thinking of splitting up, and because he can't do anything about it, and because he has to prove to himself that there's still a chance his parents will stay together, he helps Mud unite with his girlfriend. Sheridan should get a child Oscar(they have that, right?) for his performance. He's a tough kid that can take a beating(and dish one out) but is still a kid trying to figure out the world. You can tell that Ellis is at the stage where he's about to grow up to be the man he'll be for the rest of his life, and if Mud is any kind of a dirtbag or bad influence, he could turn out very very wrong.
This movie is fantastic. It's a long movie, a long road to Ellis's journey of growing up, but it draws you in, takes a hold of you, and doesn't let go until the credits role. Mud is part action, part Southern-Fried Noir, and part coming-of-age story. You can probably see which part I loved so much. I'm surprised that it hasn't gotten more coverage than it has. It's a tad formulaic in the sense it has that feeling of getting a tour of a house and the host shows you the gun on the mantle place and the secret door in the bedroom, leaving you wondering when those elements are going to pop up later. But as it's part noir, it's one of those few movies in which you really don't know how it's going to end. You hope it's all going to turn out well, but the more you watch, the more you know it probably won't turn out that way.
If you haven't already grokked, this has an incredible cast, all with fantastic roles. Along with McConaughey and Sheridan, there's also Reese Witherspoon, Paul Sparks(from Boardwalk Empire), Joe Don Baker, and Michael Shannon as a hilariously inept Uncle to Neckbone. I can't say anyone is slacking in their performance they're all masterful. Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon feel like parents stuck in a rut who don't know what to do. It's still Sheridan's show, who even at the supposed age of 14, has a mile-long stare and is ready to face anything.
|Ellis and Neckbone, the precocious tykes.|
Points have to be given for really nailing the feel and setting. It's odd how nostalgic I am for going through small towns like this. Everyone knows everyone, it's littered with motels and small markets, and going to Walmart is considered a big deal. It's hard to pinpoint when exactly this takes place, if it's from back in the 80's, or in the late 90's, or even in a small town today that has yet to be touched by the connectivity of technology. I think that's why we've been seeing a resurgence of Southern-Fried Noir like Justified and Winter's Bone. Creators like the feel of noir, but they don't want to tell the same story in the 40's that's been told to death, and they also don't want to have to deal with the emergence of technology that would, if not eliminate whole tropes entirely, would at least complicate certain plot points. In any case, the small town feels perfectly recreated, and perfectly fit for a gritty little crime drama. The soundtrack is also very country and moody.
There's action and drama, but most of the important stuff doesn't come until the explosive third act where shit really hits the motorboat fan. There are also some fist fights, which are well done, but expect mostly dialogue and investigation like a good point-and-click adventure game. It's also very funny at times, with quips here and there. But mostly you should come for the great coming-of-age story and the mystery of Mud that unfolds. I don't know if I would call it a full noir because the mood isn't quite right, but it's nearly there. It has a lot of noir elements, lile Ellis continually having the choice of how much he should trust Mud, and digging himself deeper into the hole that is Mud's problems. It's a great drama nonetheless.
|I think I got Witherspoon's jaw but |
gave her too much forehead.
One thing nagging at my brain about this otherwise perfect drama is its depiction of women. It's a coming-of-age story, but decidedly a boy's coming-of-age story. In fact a lot of the plot can be summed up in "Women, amirite fellas?" This is an inherent problem with noir, in which women are regulated to objects to obtain and fight over at best, and the root of all of man's troubles at worst. I don't think it's as terrible towards women as some other movies, but it's bad enough that it makes me uncomfortable to think about, and may be a major problem for some. Take for instance Ellis's interests in a girl. We don't see her perspective on the story, just his, which I can understand and would prefer from an efficient storytelling perspective. But still, without her side, it looks like Ellis is a good guy and she's just a dumb girl. Also there's the fact that his parents' break up is viewed largely as the mother's fault, though it comes back to her point in the end. Is it terrible? I'm not entirely sure, but it deserves discussion. Comments?
Aside from that, I can't recommend this enough. Mud is a great story with a fantastic cast and amazing performances. It's a moving story about a kid learning the problems of love.
THE GOOD: Great cast, great performances, great coming-of-age story, nice action, McConaughey is great as a crazy character, Ellis is a badass little kid, can't tell how it will end
THE BAD: Long, must love southern accents, a bit formulaic, not great with women
THE VERDICT: $$$$$ See it! Guys I loved this movie. It is a fantastic story. You'll probably like it more than Gatsby. Just sayin'.
MOVIES LIKE IT: Winter's Bone, Justified, Killer Joe, The Goonies, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Ellis sees a guy messing with a girl across the street. He walks across traffic, and slugs the kid. "You know, you just hit a senior, right?" says the girl. "Yeah, so?" Ellis shoots back. The kid gives zero fucks. Also kind of chauvinistic.