Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mud [2012]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (3 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review (J. Emerson) review

Mud [2012] (written and directed by Jeff Nichols) is a small well acted/crafted "indie" style film set in a small random hamlet in Arkansas along the banks of the (Great) Mississippi River.  As such, "small in scope" as the film may be, it immediately evokes the grandeur of  "Old Man River" and the legacy of America's greatest story teller, Mark Twain.

Does the film live up to such "Great Potentialities" if not "Expectations?"  Well Mark Twain / Huck Finn it is not, indeed, can not be, but IMHO the film's both small/intimate enough and its thematics universal enough to do quite well.  And certainly the film is worthy of the interests of actor Matthew McConaughey who can definitely ham-it-up in crowd-pleasing / blockbuster fare like Magic Mike [2012] or Ghosts of Girlfriends Past [2009] but also appears interested in taking on roles in IMHO far more interesting "Southern Noir"-ish projects such as in Bernie [2012], Killer Joe [2012] (a film that I do believe "crossed the line" but at least there was "a line to cross" ... ) and The Paperboy [2012].

The current film centers on two 14 year old boys, Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan) and his best friend nick-named "Neckbone" (played by Jacob Lofland) from said small hamlet who are growing-up with their parents/kin, living in houseboats perched along the River (hence the River necessarily plays a BIG role in their lives).  One day, while exploring along the river on their little motorboat, the two encounter a drifter (played by Matthew McConaughey). When asked by the boys for his name, the drifter introduces himself as Mud.  He's been sleeping in a boat that due to a previous flood is holed-up in a tree on a random island along the Mississippi.  Looking at him with one pair of clothing and small convenience store plastic bag of groceries to his name, one of the two 14 year-olds mutters under his breath "Bum."  "Excuse me, I'm a hobo.  Presently, I may be homeless but I work and pay for my keep!"  Indeed, one day, as the two boys progressively begin to trust / befriend the curious Mud, he has a cooler of already gutted and cut-up fish for them to take back to town to sell for him...

Okay, so what's a guy in his late 20s-early 30s doing living in a boat holed-up in the tree on some random island along the Mississippi River somewhere in Arkansas?   Well, there's obviously a story and the story's obviously, at least in part, rather seamy and not particularly great for 14 year olds to hear.  On the other hand, they're 14 and as long as they keep some distance from said "bum/hobo" named Mud, they get to learn a little about life ... life that they themselves, living in houseboats at the edge of a small Arkansas town along the Mississippi River, are already living somewhat "on the margins." 

Between what Mud himself tells them, and what they hear over time from others, the boys (as well as the viewers) piece together the (Mud's) story: There's a young woman involved, Juniper (played by Resse Witherspoon).  There's also a recluse/distant relation of Mud's, a retired former Marine sharpshooter named Tom Blankenship (played by Sam Shepard) who actually lives somewhat close to Ellis' family if "across the channel" (already on an island).  He knows Mud and has been "looking after him" if at a distance since Mud's teenage years and (for reasons unclear / I don't entirely remember anymore... ;-) the breakup of Mud's family.

Ex-marine sniper (and literally "uncle Tom" ;-) Blankenship thinks Mud's girlfriend has been "nothing but trouble."  He explains to the boys that Mud's been in love with her for years and that Juniper "kinda loves him back."  But then "she's flighty" hanging out with the biggest dregs of society (probably part of the reason she kinda likes Mud as well ...) and then depends on Mud to come along and "save her" from the mess that she's created.

Well, the last time when Mud came to clean-up a Mess that Juniper created, he ended-up killing a young man of Mud's / Juniper's age, a man whose father holds grudges.  Hence Mud's living in a "tree house boat" on a non-descript island along the Mississippi being helped by two 14 year olds, because he's wanted for murdering a well-connected a-h... who was hitting on a young woman who can't decide whether or not she loves Mud (or could love Mud) anyway.

What a murky/muddy Mess ... ;-).  Anyway, dead a-h...'s father has bounty hunters out looking for Mud and staking-out Juniper's residence as well.  Something has to give ... And, of course, it does.   The rest of the movie ensues ...

What a simple and yet great story about life-lessons and growing up!  True, this is not exactly a story for girls/young women as they not necessarily portrayed well in this story even if Ellis' mother Mary Lee (played by Sarah Paulson) is portrayed quite nicely/positively.  Still it's not necessarily a bad lesson for either boys or girls to least: Just because you like/are attracted somebody doesn't make them a good person.  At times, you have to step back and look at them for what they really are.

So I just found this film to be great.  It reminds us that a good story doesn't need a high budget / great special effects to sell.  In the tradition of the great story-teller Mark Twain, a good story can sell itself ... 

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