Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mud (Rhoades)

“Mud” Meanders Like
The Mighty Mississippi

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Funny that for a successful actor like Matthew McConaughey, his latest film is being called a “breakthrough role.” But I know what the Hollywood wags mean. This a performance that many say will define his acting career. And this, like his recent roles (“The Paperboy,” “Killer Joe”), successfully breaks him away from a legacy of mindless rom-coms (“Fool’s Gold,” “How to Loose a Guy in 10 Days”).
While the new film’s title bears McConaughey’s character’s nomenclature -- “Mud” -- he acts more as a catalyst than a star in this coming-of-age story about two young Arkansas boys who encounter a fugitive hiding out on an overgrown island in the Mississippi River.
While his role as a mysterious drifter drives the film (in the way the search for a dead boy drove “Stand By Me”), he has a little more to do than the aforementioned corpse. You see, Mud wants to reunite with his true love, played by Reese Witherspoon. And he needs the two boys’ help since he’s a gun-toting criminal trying to dodge an influx of bounty hunters led by Joe Don Baker.
One of the boys is drawn to assist Mud because he sees the man as a kindred soul, a stand-in for the distant fisherman father who’s at odds with his mother. The other rapscallion helps in trade for the pistol that is at the heart of Mud’s troubles.
Writer-director Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”) pictured McConaughey in the title role from the very beginning, back when he began penning the script while still in high school.
Growing up in Arkansas, Nichols set the story there. “I wanted to capture a point in my life in high school when I had crushes on girls and it totally broke my heart and it was devastating,” he says. “I wanted to try and bottle that excitement and that pain and that intensity of being in love and being a teenager.”
Over 2,000 kids audited for the role of Neckbone, with Nichols settling on 15-year-old Jacob Lofland from Yell County, Arkansas. The role of Ellis went to Tye Sheridan, a Texas kid who’d appeared in “Tree of Life.”
Nichols clearly had Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in mind as he crafted the story, on one level a chase film about a murderer, but on another about that mysterious transition from boy to man.
As Mud tells them, “You gotta watch yourself.”
This longish, slow-paced drama -- currently showing at the Tropic Cinema -- meanders along like the muddy Mississippi itself. But even hard-hearted film critics love the heartwarming story, rating it 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. And audiences are wallowing in this nostalgic ode to growing up in a small town, a lyrical film that makes you reflect on friendship, unrequited love, and the lingering innocence of youth.
It’s as if Mark Twain became a filmmaker. And cast Matthew McConaughey as a modern-day leathery-skinned Jim fighting for his freedom with the help of two not-quite runaway boys.

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