"You gotta watch yourself." Mud (Matthew McConaughey)
In fact, everyone needs to watch himself, mostly the eponymous fugitive and almost so the 14 year olds Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who aid the murderer Mud as he connects with his lost love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and evades bounty hunters and irate family members of his victim. Everyone seems to be running from something.
This crisp thriller and psychological study can be enjoyed on two levels: First, it's a darn good chase story with Mud being pursued by bad guys and Mud chasing his love; second, it's a coming-of-age story as the boys, especially Ellis, sift through adult lies and compromises and their own growing sense of love's importance. That love covers parent for child, friend for friend, and boy for girl.
Although writer-director Jeff Nichols may be trying to do too much with those themes, he succeeds in crafting characters we really care about whose arcs promise to extend beyond the story, embracing universals that extend beyond rural Arkansas. So important is the river to the boys that inquisitive and ornery Huck Finn is as close as the next bend in the river.
While the title could represent the dirty little world of sin on the river, it also suggests the primal stuff from which Eve was made. Women are the central metaphor for the boys, who already know girls must be dealt with before boys can be called men. Yet, beyond dealing with the opposite sex, they must decide who's good and who's evil, regardless of gender.
That consideration starts with family and moves to the family of man. That's quite a lot for a little film. It delivers. If my comments don't convince you to see this indie gem, then consider the supporting cast of Michael Shannon, Reese Witherspoon, Joe Don Baker, and Sam Shepard. You'll crab there's not enough of each one, and that's all good. And I'm not just slinging mud.
14 year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) lives on a makeshift houseboat on the banks of a river in Arkansas with his parents, Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) and Senior (Ray McKinnon). He sneaks out early one morning to meet his best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Neckbone, also 14, lives with his uncle, Galen (Michael Shannon), who makes a hardscrabble living diving for oysters. The two boys set out to an island on the Mississippi River, where Neckbone has discovered an unusual sight-a boat, suspended high in the trees, a remnant of an extreme flood some time in the past. They climb the tree and into the boat only to find fresh bread and fresh footprints. Realizing that they are not the only ones who have discovered the treehouse boat, they decide to leave. When they reach the shore, they find the same footprint in their boat. And that's when they meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Mud is a gritty, superstitious character; his clothes are dirty, his tooth is cracked, and he needs help. He tells the boys he will give them the treehouse boat, his current hideout, in exchange for food. Neckbone is reluctant, but Ellis brings food to Mud, and they develop a tentative friendship. Ellis learns that Mud has killed a man in Texas, and police and bounty hunters are looking for him, but Mud is more concerned about reuniting with his longtime love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Ellis, who has recently developed his own crush, agrees to help Mud escape with Juniper. Ellis and Neckbone carry out bold schemes in an effort to protect Mud and relay messages to Juniper, who is holed up in a fleabag motel, under constant surveillance by Carver (Paul Sparks), a Texas bounty hunter. Carver and his gang are intent on capturing Mud, on orders from the cold-blooded King (Joe Don Baker). As the boys risk everything to reunite these seeming mythical lovers, Ellis's own ideas about love and romance are challenged by the strains in the relationships closest to him: his parents' marriage is dissolving while he himself falters in his efforts to impress May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant). Through it all, Ellis struggles to look for an example of love that he can believe in, learning about the unspoken rules and risks of love and the reality of heartbreak.
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July 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm