Saturday, May 25, 2013


Plot: A fugitive, Mud, (Matthew McConaughey) is living on a river island in Arkansas when he is befriended by two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Mud is running from the law and a posse of locals from the next town who want to lynch him. Mud wants to get back together with his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and run away. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: A flawed, pessimistic, and poorly-paced film about poor kids in river country and their mis-adventure with a lowlife. Early, the film is painfully hard-to-watch as unlikeable characters crawl at snail's pace through set-up details. Allegedly, Mud is a great liar, but he never shows any dynamism or charm that great liars employ. He should have been more like the Great Gatsby. Later, when the boys are stealing things for Mud, the story picks up.

I liked the child actors because their scenes never seemed fake.  The pluckiness of Sheridan's Ellis is the strongest part of the movie. The relationships between the characters are vague and the emotional tone is cool. Despite the characters saying 'I love you,' regularly; I did not understand what kept these people together. Mud's relationship with Juniper was especially undeveloped, and Reese spends the movie wasting away in her hotel. No dialog at all -- they wave at each other.

The plot has dangling ends, like there were many scenes that got edited out.

Art movies are supposed mean something. Our hero, Ellis, was idealistic -- picking fights for love, and stealing to help lovers stay together. This was to compensate in his mind for his parent's marital troubles, and  because he wanted love too. See SPOILERS section below for more. 

Despite lots of pictures of trees and riverscapes, the photography does not capture natural beauty, and maybe that is intentional since the subject is generally dreary. On the other hand, natural beauty is one reason why these river men love the life so much, and that never made it into the film. I did not think this was an "interesting portrait of a dying way of life," on a historical or cultural level.

The soundtrack was poor, especially the closing credit music.

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland

Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Rating: 2.5: My original rating is 2.0. The strong performance of the child stars can't fix the poor pacing, weak character development, and deeply pessimistic world view. The is film is dreadfully boring in places.  On the other hand, there is a lot of depth to the story as a fable or dream, see spoiler section below. On this level, 2.5 stars. 
  << The original rating was 2, and that is why the graphic is 2. I bumped it up to 2.5 after thinking about it for a while.

More: Mud was strongly reviewed. These critics are suckers for the off-beat and a little symbolism.

BIG SPOILERS:  Bad guy Mud gets rescued and floats away to start again. He does not pay for his crime. The lynch mob trying to get justice for their dead kin lay dead instead. I am sure we are supposed to be happy that Mud lives, but why?

Idealistic Ellis, is happy because he can gaze at the cute (older) high school girls across the street. It would have been so much better to have him meet girls his own age. If this is a coming of age movie, where is the advance in Ellis? Just this one detail would have changed my assessment of the film.  Instead he is turning into a peeping Tom/stalker.

Idealism is drowned in a river of troubles. This is how idealistic boys turn into burned-out, bitter, old men: where the best skill is picking off bad guys with a sniper rifle, or swimming unseen while been shot at.  

SPOILER - Let's say it was all a dream:  We know that boats are never found in trees: this should be a clue that this is a make-believe world, and Mud lives there. He also slept high in the trees like Peter Pan. No adults ever talk to Mud (except Tom Blankenship, who must also be make-believe.) This is like 2007's Bridge to Terabithia, which is best understood as a metaphor or dream.

Ellis never went out on the date with Mary Ellen either; that was also a dream. He met Juniper selling fish, and she never met Mud.  The boys find a boat on the island, get some rope to free it, patch the leak, steal a motor, but never get the motor running. At the end, Ellis dreams his house gets shot up, that is why Mud is attacked in Ellis' bedroom, and in the morning the house boat is dismantled and Ellis moves to town with his Mom. His imaginary friends cruise away on the boat to open water. In the end, Ellis sees some neighbor girls. (As mentioned above) it would have been a happier ending if they were his own age, or carrying a fishing pole, or a soccer ball, or anything to show they were real people not another daydream.

There are problems with this analysis -- why do the police have Mud's photo? Even if one believes all this, what is the hidden message. Nothing really? Just a kid "coming of age."