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2012 | 130 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1



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Movie appeal

Coming of age12%



Theatrical release date

 26 April, 2013
 10 May, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Screenshots from Mud Blu-ray

Mud Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 25, 2013

The power of great cinema is a special thing. With “Mud,” the screening audience I attended the film with fell in love with the picture, physically and verbally invested in story and character to a degree I haven’t been exposed to in a very long time. It was a unique moviegoing adventure for a classically conceived effort, standing somewhere between a Mark Twain novel and a David Gordon Green feature (at least one where he’s not trying to be funny). Somber and engrossing, “Mud” is like paging through a terrific book containing a few dull chapters, with writer/director Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”) creating an evocative atmosphere of mystery and misfortune, captured through well-rounded personalities, patient screenwriting, and ace acting from most of the cast.

Deep in Arkansas river country, 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) is struggling with his life, watching his parents, Senior (Ray McKinnon) and Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson), end their tumultuous marriage while his own romantic aspirations with crush May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant) are puzzling. Bombing around the community with pal Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), Ellis comes across Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive seeking refuge on a nearby island, living in a boat stuck high in a tree. Taking to the mystery man as a father figure, Ellis bonds with Mud, bringing him food and supplies as the trio begins a plan to lower and repair the boat. Also on Mud’s mind is love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who’s hiding out in a motel, hoping to evade the wrath of her brother, Carver (Paul Sparks), a man committed to bringing Mud to justice under the guidance of his father, King (Joe Don Baker). As the days pass, Ellis responds to Mud’s attention, finding clarity in the man’s focus. However, as Carver draws near, the teenager grasps the reality of the situation, aided by advice from reclusive neighbor Tom (Sam Shepard).

“Mud” takes the viewer into the Deep South, observing a community working around the vagaries of the river system, where Senior catches and sells fish to local folk, while Neck bone’s Uncle Galen (Michael Shannon, in an uncharacteristically gentle supporting role) takes to diving with ancient equipment, hunting for pearl oysters. It’s a tattered group of folk trying to make a living, yet the hardship of such isolation has taken its toll, finding Ellis assuming a front-row seat to the disintegration of his numbing routine once he meets Mud.

Nichols scripts a story of fathers and sons, inspecting Senior’s inability to hold himself together once the reality of abandonment hits him; developing Tom as an enigmatic figure in Mud’s life, attached to the wanted man in a vague manner that keeps him invested in local developments; and studying Ellis’s gradual sense of duty to Mud, helping the fugitive with his plans of escape. There’s a dissection of male bonding that provides a deep psychological feel to the movie, and while Nichols has a stunning command of coming-of-age reactions and humiliations, the finest material is devoted to the silent agony of uncommunicative men filled with emotion but cursed with no idea how to share themselves.

There’s also a mystery element to “Mud” that holds the feature together, examining the titular character as he builds a wild narrative in his head, leaving Ellis to uncover the truth behind bold claims of strength and honor. The gradual reveal of Mud’s true form holds the picture together, the audience left to wonder if the recluse is genuine or out to manipulate Ellis and Neckbone for unsavory purposes. Despite the promise of tension, “Mud” plays rather leisurely, slowly soaking up the humid atmosphere and nuanced behavior, a deliberate touch that extends to Carver’s manhunt, twisted from greasy vengeance mechanics to an unnervingly spiritual quest guided by King. “Mud” remains surprising throughout, with its throttled pace helping the material to breathe, thus drawing the audience in tighter.

Performances are absolutely terrific, with Witherspoon the only weak link here, doing very little with a crucial role. McConaughey doesn’t quite transform himself into a fried man, exposed to the elements and illness for too long (the jagged teeth are artificial, the hairless body and developed abs shatter the backwoods illusion), but the work is excellent, laboring to get inside the character and isolate his unsteady instincts. It’s Sheridan who ultimately carries the movie, providing a powerfully vulnerable turn as Ellis, revealing an inner life to the boy instead of merely posing for the camera. It’s a subtle, top-notch effort, managed wonderfully by Nichols to best extract every drop of discomfort facing the teen.

“Mud” is a tad overlong (at 130 minutes), though a few reveals and a confrontational finale pays off the picture with a heaping helping of cathartic violence to top off a slow-burn tale of disturbance. It’s a feature that sneaks up on the viewer in the best possible way, engaging the audience with a literary-style approach that develops the characters in full and makes the drama irresistible in an unexpected manner.

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon
Director: Jeff Nichols

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Mud vs Winter's Bone 48 Sep 09, 2013

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