Apr 29, 2013
Mud takes place in the brackish banks of a river in Arkansas and is a coming of age story about a young boy who is disabused of his chivalric notions of romantic love by a fugitive, Mud, played by Matthew McConaughey, who, praise the Lord, has stopped making unfortunate romantic comedies to become one of our very finest character actors, and one of the few American actors who can do a righteous southern accent. He is fantastic. The rest of the cast of this movie, written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), is equally splendid and includes Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson, Joe Don Baker, and Reese Witherspoon. The two kids, Tye Sheridan (from The Tree Of Life) as Ellis, and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone, are beautiful and wonderful.
Even though one enjoys Mud's leisurely glide into this remote corner of America, where an almost mythical river is a hop and a skip from generic strip malls, this is one slow movie, with a very uneven pace. Many perfectly good scenes could have stayed in the cutting room and no one would have been the worse for wear.
Mud's tone swings between a coming of age story and a film noir and it never succeeds in harmonizing these two genres. I am more partial to the gothic and the dark, but Mud moves in the other direction, reassuring us that for all the threats of violence, no real harm will come to the kids. Nichols is capable of conjuring up dread and suspense, and I wish he'd hewed closer to that tenor of the story. But I loved that Ellis learns a painful lesson about romantic love and has his manhood delivered to him in one fell swoop of reality: love is a bitch.
Indeed, Magnificent Arepa pointed to a very interesting issue that eluded me as I watched the film. All the women in the movie are portrayed as deeply toxic to men. Nichols tries to balance this out with some nuance. Ellis' Mom (Sarah Paulson) and his dad do not get along and she is understandably tired of living in the boonies; Juniper, the femme fatale (Reese Witherspoon) is like a siren whose call brings nothing but trouble. It is not exactly clear why she is back to haunt Mud. Then an older girl Ellis is in love with, makes mincemeat out of him. Arepa thought the movie was downright misogynistic. I wouldn't go that far, but it certainly has a male-centric point of view.
I enjoyed Mud, even with some of its cliches (boy gets a shiner helping a damsel in distress, is rewarded with a bag of ice and a kiss in the forehead), until it comes to a disappointing resolution that arrives at a massive shoot 'em up worthy of a Hollywood extravaganza, deeply at odds with its quieter disquisitions about love and loyalty. More troubling is the fact that after the movie has established the dire consequences that Ellis faces making his very risky choices, the bullet ridden ending seems to happen, like in cartoons, or Hollywood movies, without dire consequences for anybody. Since it's the good guys who are shooting, they are given a pass for the wall to wall carpeting of bodies they leave behind. This is morally queasy, let alone juvenile, and it undermines the very premise that Mud takes such loving care (and time) to build.