Combustible Celluloid
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With: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Paul Sparks, Joe Don Baker, Johnny Cheek, Bonnie Sturdivant, Stuart Greer, Clayton Carson
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking
Language: English
Running Time: 130
Date: 27/04/2013

Mud (2013)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Take Me to the River

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, writer/director Jeff Nichols has slowly established himself as a strong force in independent film with his first two features, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter.

Both took place in rural, working class communities, and both starred the serpent-eyed Michael Shannon.

In his third film, the new Mud, a slightly bigger star, Matthew McConaughey, takes over the lead; Shannon gets a potent little supporting role.

But Nichols continues his favorite theme, inaction in the face of violence, with chilling results.

The story centers on two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), whose families live and work by the Mississippi River.

On a tucked-away little island the boys make a unique discovery: a boat in a tree. Taking a clandestine trip to see it -- and hopefully claim it -- they make an even more startling discovery. Someone is living in it.

That person is known only as "Mud" (McConaughey). This cagey character seems to materialize from nowhere, giving the impression that he's mysterious and dangerous.

He says he's waiting there for a beautiful woman. He sends the boys out for food and parts for the boat. Over time, they piece together his story.

Reese Witherspoon plays the girl, Juniper, and when she first appears, at a distance, she could be the most beautiful girl in the world. But eventually she becomes more human, and terribly troubled.

Simultaneously, Ellis begins his own first tentative, comparative steps toward relations with the opposite sex.

Nichols populates the movie with many memorable, colorful supporting characters: aside from Shannon, who plays Neckbone's uncle, Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon play Ellis' feuding parents, Sam Shepard is a cranky old sharpshooter, and Joe Don Baker is a kind of backwoods gangster.

Though they're all welcome, they tend to overstuff the movie, which finally clocks in at 130 minutes.

They real key to the movie is Mud's theoretical impotence, stuck on the island, frustrated at not being able to do things himself, and having to rely on the two boys.

If only the movie could have stuck closer to this trio, but Nichols instead spends time and energy building toward a disappointingly tidy conclusion, complete with an explosive shootout/showdown. It seems out of step with his natural themes.

Yet it's still an accomplished whole. Despite having been shoved into a rigid structure, Nichols is a creator of worlds too little seen on the big screen. The setting, characters, and situations in Mud are fully formed and fully satisfying.

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