Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mud

This is a spoiler-free review.

Going into this movie I only had a vague idea of what it was about, and no clue as to where the independent-style plot was going to lead. It turned out to be nothing like I imagined, but almost everything that I was hoping for.

Ellis and Neckbone.

Two small-town boys of Arkansas -- Ellis, played by Tye Sheridan, and Neckbone, played by Jacob Lofland -- go out to an island on the Mississippi river one day to find a boat that was stuck in a tree and claim it for their own. But when they find it, they discover that someone else has claimed it already; a very scraggly, dirty looking man called "Mud." Played by Matthew McConaughey. Mud says he's waiting for someone, and offers to give the boys the boat in return for them bringing him food while he waits. He's waiting for his long-time on-again-off-again girlfriend, (Reese Witherspoon) with whom he has a rocky past. He also happens to be a wanted man, and the authorities are closing in on him. But Ellis wants to help him -- to help him be with his true love. He's barely clinging to the hope that love like that actually exists in the world, so he jumps in willingly to lend a hand. But he gets more than he bargained for. And so does Mud.

Nice chipped tooth there, McConaughey.

Mud is an independent film, and feels it every inch. The script is precise, nuanced and has character of its own, and the dialogue is easy and natural -- and no one ever speaks in "plot points." It's also set in very rural south, so every character seems to be thinking twice as much as they ever say. You have to sift through the murky words to find the meaning -- and there's lots of meaning. It's very laid-back in pace, but still builds tension very effectively. The tension grows slowly from the very first scene to the climax with not a single break, but unforced, and so smoothly that you hardly notice.

The filming style is also very effective in that way, and the cinematography -- even though the location was either the dirty Mississippi river or a shabby little town nearby, there's no other way to describe it except "beautiful." Usually, when you think of beautiful cinematography, a requirement would be a stunning location to shoot (and then airbrush) but is spite of the grit and the grime and the sparseness of the location I was struck by the boldly eloquent look of this film.

As you can see from these pictures, the film has fantastic colors, and dramatic use of light.

The main reason for my original interest came from the acting side, as is typical for me. And I wasn't let down. Matthew McConaughey makes you all but forget he's Matthew McConaughey with this wild-looking, tan, drawling and complex character. But Tye Sheridan is the main character really, and he doesn't let his equally complex, and fantastic character be overshadowed by the considerably more seasoned actor. No one's lying about this kid -- he's talented. The longer the movie ran, the more impressive his performance grew. He has a natural and sure style which makes him a perfect fit for this movie graced with the same qualities.

All the characters are realistically flawed and defined, and all the actors portray them expertly.

So what is this movie really? Is it a love story? An adventure tale? A gritty character drama? A mystery, a coming-of-age-story, or an action thriller? Absolutely. Elements of each are present in varying amounts. And don't forget it's an indie film, which is a whole genre of its own. Anyway, I guess it depends on which angle you look at from. From mine there was a lot being said about love and the sometimes harsh realities of life, and with a surprisingly positive outlook. But mainly, all I know is that more than once, as it deviated from, and exceeded my expectations yet again, surprising and charming me all over again, I couldn't help but smile and think that I didn't want it to end.

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