May 31, 2013

Review: McConaughey Gets Serious – As Good As 'Mud'

Filmmaker Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) continues his strong, compelling work in this Southern style coming of age film about the loss of innocence. Mud stars Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland as curious fourteen-year-old kids, Ellis and Neckbone, who become entangled with a mysterious and possibly dangerous drifter in Matthew McConaughey's titular character.

Ellis and Neckbone happen upon a stranger known only as "Mud" on the Mississippi River and become involved in his journey. We follow Ellis on the verge of an awkward adolescence, full of dumb confidence, an infatuation with older girls, and his own ideals. His parents are separating and he's challenged to grow up and leave his simple, idyllic family life on the river.

Mud is a small, personal film with great scope told ambitiously featuring stark visuals on screen. Through its fine child performances and a dark yet likeable turn by McConaughey, Nichols slowly builds the characters and gothic setting. There's just enough wonder and innocence to make Mud a sort of twisted fairytale with three parallel narratives about love and heartbreak melded into a crime story.

Few filmmakers are able to show such confidence and precision behind the camera so early in their filmography. Nichols displays his masterful flourishes with subtle, gripping storytelling. Its slow, deliberate pace builds tension and intrigue in every shot and scene. The film balances a dark, ominous mood with the optimism and curiosity of its childhood protagonists beautifully.

It's a wondrous film wrapped in this image of a boat in a tree. All the imagery and plotting evoke a modern day interpretation of Mark Twain with a splendid, mythic atmosphere. Mud is precise in its balance of fine acting, storytelling, and childhood adventure. Characters are treated to rich, dynamic arcs within an intimate framework. Nichols speaks clearly to our child and adult sensibilities simultaneously in an artful fashion. Mud is a powerful and narratively arresting film about compelling characters and situations.

More | YVArcade / BeatRoute

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