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A River of Dreams: Mud

by Leonard Maltin
April 26, 2013 12:10 AM
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Matthew McConaughey-MUD-485
Photo by Jim Bridges - Courtesy of FilmNation Ent.

Writer-director Jeff Nichols fulfills the promise he showed in his previous film Take Shelter with a beguiling fable called Mud. The film takes place in a small community along the riverbank in Nichols’ home state of Arkansas, where it was produced. It spins a multilayered story inspired by the filmmaker’s favorite author, Mark Twain—an imposing role model, to be sure.

Matthew McConaughey heads the cast as a mysterious figure who attracts the attention of two impressionable young boys, perfectly brought to life by Tye Sheridan (whom you may remember from The Tree of Life) and Jacob Lofland. McConaughey’s name is Mud and he’s a wanted man, trying to survive on an island near his home town and hoping to hook up with the love of his life, a woman named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). He plans to rehabilitate an abandoned boat that wound up lodged in a tree on the island during a flood. That’s where the boys come in: they bring him supplies and carry messages to the girlfriend who motivates Mud’s every move.

One reason young Sheridan finds Mud so intriguing is that his parents’ marriage is on the skids; he’s attracted to the idea of a man driven by love. Over the course of the film he comes to learn that love comes in many forms, not all of them easily understood.

Mud unfolds at a deliberate pace, which suits this mode of storytelling. We come to feel as if we know the colorful characters who populate the story, including the river people and the townies. This is the kind of film where small gestures and vignettes convey more than long speeches possibly could. The cast is attuned to this idea, and their faces reflect the nuances and grace notes Nichols has in mind. Among the players are Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Joe Don Baker, and Michael Shannon, who’s been in all three of Nichols’ films. Their sensitive performances are matched by the two boys who dominate the picture. The leisurely Mud may not be every moviegoer’s cup of tea, but I fell under its spell and can’t stop thinking about it.



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  • STLWatching | May 5, 2013 7:41 PMReply

    An engaging film with wonderful storytelling. The audience around us was hushed and clearly involved. The convincing factor for me? I wasn't particularly enthusiastic about seeing this film, and ten minutes into it, I was completely engrossed in the story, the characters, the setting - everything. As for black characters, as mentioned by the other comment - Huh? Films are not boxes of Crayolas. There doesn't have to be an assortment to make the tale believable, interesting or enchanting. (There were no blonde, Irish amputees, either. Who cares?)

  • BC Lamb | May 5, 2013 9:40 AMReply

    Actually, I thought the movie was tedious, uncinematic, and tired. Cliches include the misunderstood man-against-the-world, snakebite, the self-sacrificing run to the emergency ward, violence as the solution to all problems, Daddy Rambo, and the shootout at the end. Undeveloped and unresolved are the dynamic between Ellis's parents, Neckbone's relationship to his uncle, and Juniper's fate. And while I don't ask for (or even want) political correctness in my movies, it's a little remarkable that there are no black characters at all. Really? On the Mississsippi? The acting was good, though, and so was the dialogue. All in all, I wish I'd spent my nine bucks on beer.

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