Mon April 22, 2013
A small psychological thriller with a big delivery.
Director: Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter)
Cast: Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe), Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life)
Runtime: 130 min
by John DeSando
“You gotta watch yourself.” Mud (Matthew McConaughey)
In fact, everyone needs to watch himself, mostly the eponymous fugitive and almost so the 14 year olds Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who aid the murderer Mud as he connects with his lost love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and evades bounty hunters and irate family members of his victim. Everyone seems to be running from something.
This crisp thriller and psychological study can be enjoyed on two levels: First, it’s a darn good chase story with Mud being pursued by bad guys and Mud chasing his love; second, it’s a coming-of-age story as the boys, especially Ellis, sift through adult lies and compromises and their own growing sense of love’s importance. That love covers parent for child, friend for friend, and boy for girl.
Although writer-director Jeff Nichols may be trying to do too much with those themes, he succeeds in crafting characters we really care about whose arcs promise to extend beyond the story, embracing universals that extend beyond rural Arkansas. So important is the river to the boys that inquisitive and ornery Huck Finn is as close as the next bend in the river.
While the title could represent the dirty little world of sin on the river, it also suggests the primal stuff from which Eve was made. Women are the central metaphor for the boys, who already know girls must be dealt with before boys can be called men. Yet, beyond dealing with the opposite sex, they must decide who’s good and who’s evil, regardless of gender.
That consideration starts with family and moves to the family of man. That’s quite a lot for a little film. It delivers. If my comments don’t convince you to see this indie gem, then consider the supporting cast of Michael Shannon, Reese Witherspoon, Joe Don Baker, and Sam Shepard. You’ll crab there’s not enough of each one, and that’s all good. And I’m not just slinging mud.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com