Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mud: Huck and Tom Meet Romeo and Juliet Along the River of Life

by Pa Rock
Movie Fan

It is a continuing aggravation to me that the really good movies are rarely shown in Phoenix’s West Valley.  It’s as though the persons who make the decisions of what movies will play in which theatres, make the assumption that people in the West Valley would not understand anything beyond car chases, action flicks, and brainless comedies. 

Matthew McConaughey has starred in two very fine movies in the past year, films that show the actor’s amazing range and ability – which both extend well beyond the fluff comedies for which he had been known.  The first of those movies, Killer Joe, never did play in the West Valley, forcing me to drive to Scottsdale, where our betters live, to see it.  The second movie, Mud, finally made it into one theatre in the West Valley last week – the over-priced one next to the stadium – allowing me to be able to see it without burning through half a tank of gas.

So much to bitch about;  so little time.

The true star of Mud is the Mississippi River as it drifts along between Arkansas and Tennessee heading to the Gulf.  The characters in the movie live along the river, make their livings from the river, hide out on the river, and use the river as an escape.  The movie was filmed in and around the communities of Dumas and Stuttgart, Arkansas.

Jeff Nichols, the writer and director of Mud, required the cast to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn before the movie was filmed, undoubtedly to give them a sense of the river from literary and historic perspectives.   The end result was a masterwork that floated along the same river, and had the same feel, as where Tom and Huck and Jim had their grand adventures.

 The plot revolves around two fourteen-year-old boys, Ellis and Neckbone, who cruise the river in their john boat.    The boys find a boat nestled in a treetop out on an island in the Mississippi.  Upon closer inspection they discover that someone is living in the boat, and soon encounter a river derelict by the name of Mud, who is living hand-to-mouth on the river while he waits for his girlfriend, Juniper, to arrive.  As the plot develops, it is revealed that Mud is on the run from the law and the dangerous family of one of Juniper’s boyfriends, a man that he killed in Texas.

Mud (McConaughey) and his white trash girlfriend, Reese Witherspoon, have an on-and-off relationship that is doomed to failure.  Ellis, whose parents are getting ready to split up, invests time and effort into trying to help the couple make it because he wants  to believe in the idea of love.  Ultimately the only thing that endures is the river.

There were four outstanding performers in this movie, besides the Mighty Mississippi.  McConaughey delivered a riveting portrayal of the title character.  Young Tye Sheridan who played Ellis, proved beyond a doubt that he has a future as an actor.   Ray  McKinnon did an amazing job as Senior, Ellis’s dad, who had to struggle with earning a living and understanding his son’s sudden behavior problems while powerlessly facing and dealing with the imminent breakup of his marriage.  And then there was the almost legendary Sam Shepard who played Ellis’s neighbor and Mud’s old friend – a retired CIA assassin.  Shepard, a Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist (Buried Child, 1979) and Academy Award-nominated actor (The Right Stuff, 1983), did not hurt his professional reputation at all with this role.  The aging Shepard is still a lion on film.

This could be the movie where Matthew McConaughey gets his first Oscar nomination, an honor for which he is clearly ready.   The screenplay was formidable and should also wind up garnering plenty of recognition and possibly even an award or two. 

Mud is an awesome movie, far too good to be stuck in Scottsdale.

1 comment:

Xobekim said...

Take a deep breath. "Mud" is listed as an "Art & Independent" flick by Harkins Theatres Group. It is currently running at the
Arrowhead Fountains 18 in Peoria, Az.