Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Mud

Copyright: Lionsgate
We I saw him in Bernie, I started having doubts about my belief that Matthew McConaughey was at best, a mediocre actor. After Mud, I’m sure I was wrong all along.

Warped in a growing up story, director’s Jeff Nichols new movie deals with change. A boy named Ellis lives on a boat house, and the Mississippi is the place where he plays and goofs around, but also works with his fisherman father. Their lifestyle isn’t compatible with the 21. century, and his mother is keen on change. Not far from his home, on a deserted river island, he and his friend Neckbone one day find a homeless man on the run from the law. His name is Mud, and he needs their help.

Interestingly, Mud isn’t a character that’s foreign to McConaughey – a good-looking but untidy wanderer, madly in love and deeply faithful to his own superstitions and beliefs. But this time, he builds Mud like a cake, layer upon layer of personality, where some of the information is provided by him, and the rest is gradually presented by the story. McConaughey plays Mud in a very distinct rhythm, making him both vulnerable and mysteriously protected from the usual emotions that, on the other hand, plague young Ellis.

Change is ever-present in this film. It consumes Ellis, who tries to cling to a romanticized idea of love, depicted in part by Mud’s longing for his girlfriend Juniper and his plan to run away with her, while his life is shaken by the conflict between his static, rigid father (played by a brilliant actor named Ray McKinnon) and a more proactive mother. In the natural world around them, things change too – the river authorities plan to take their home, while the waters keep on flowing as they always do. All the tension points of any childhood are here, distributed throughout a fantastic cinematography and a soundtrack that allows the audience to inhale the nature that envelopes the characters, remaining still and calm, just like the water and the trees.

As the pursuers that are looking for Mud start to swirl around Juniper, and thus soon around Ellis and Neckbone too,  movie doesn’t wander off the course, but instead presents violence and tension like everything else – graciously, like it’s just one more element in a far bigger picture.

Nichols directed only two movies in last five years - Take Shelter and Mud – but both of them are superior character driven dramas that simplistically present complex individuals, bent by a cruel world, but not broken and blinded to the beauty of life. Mud, apart from reaffirming McConaughey’s talent, reaffirms that his director has a lot of his own.