Monday, November 25, 2013

Movie Reviews: Mud (2013)

Director: Jeff Nichols

Writer: Jeff Nichols

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Paul Sparks, Joe Don Baker

Matthew McConaughey first came to my attention in 1997 with Contact, a film I loved so much that I saw it in the theaters four times, and it was the first DVD I ever bought.

But that promising start didn’t seem to go anywhere. He did a series of unworthy romantic comedies, like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and his two Cosmo nominations were for Worst Performance (Reign of Fire at the 2002 Awards and Failure to Launch at the 2006 Awards).

In recent years, however, he’s had better opportunities to flex his acting muscles. Some critics had him on their “dark horse” lists as a potential Oscar nominee for fan-favorite Magic Mike. And he wowed me with The Paperboy and Killer Joe. This year, critics are suggesting he could get his first Oscar nomination for either Dallas Buyers Club or The Wolf of Wall Street … or for Mud. Critics (98% of whom gave Mud a positive review) are repeatedly using terms like “confirmation of a career” and “career redemption” about his performance in Mud, and it’s well deserved.

My first impression of the film was that it felt like a modern take on Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and it turns out that wasn’t an accident. Writer/director Jeff Nichols fostered that impression deliberately, even naming one of the characters, Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard) after the real life childhood friend that served as Mark Twain’s inspiration for Huck Finn.

Tye Sheridan shines as Ellis, the young teen who, with his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) discovers a loose-with-facts homeless outlaw named Mud (McConaughey) while seeking the wreck of a boat and the potential for ensuing adventures. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was much more of a kid’s adventure story, while Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – called by many critics as the first Great American Novel – was much more serious and thought-provoking. While Mud has some of the adventure and rites of passage of Tom Sawyer, it ultimately strives for and achieves to be a more impactful film like Huckleberry Finn.

This will certainly make my list for quite a number of Cosmo Awards, including Best Performance by a Young Actor or Actress (Tye Sheridan). In fact, there are so many worthy nominees in that category that I’m tempted to split it into separate male and female categories. And the entire cast – Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Tye Sheridan (Ellis), Jacob Lofland (Neckbone), Reese Witherspoon (Juniper), Sarah Paulson (Mary Lee), Ray McKinnon (Senior), Sam Shepard (Tom Blakenship), Michael Shannon (Galen), Paul Sparks (Carver) and Joe Don Baker (King) – are well deserving of a shared Best Ensemble nomination.

Mud is one of the big surprises of the year, in my opinion – a film that hadn’t made my “must see” list but should have.

Rating: 4 stars

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