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Watching "Mud"
Published on May 15, 2013 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I review the new Jeff Nichols movie "Mud."

Here's an excerpt:

"The new movie 'Mud' is a boys’ adventure story in the same mold as 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' and cinematic coming-of-age quest stories, such as the great film 'Stand By Me.'

Directed by Arkansas native Jeff Nichols, the film tells the story of two 14-year-old boys who befriend an outlaw living in a boat on an island off the Mississippi River; because Nichols has a gift for striking, memorable images, the boat is lodged high into a tree, and the boys see it as a treehouse and hideaway. Instead, they find themselves running errands for the man who lives there, who goes by the nickname Mud, and bringing him food and other supplies. Mud (Matthew McConaughey, continuing his career renaissance with another eye-opening role) explains that he is waiting for his true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and that he recently killed the man she was involved with, because he was abusing her.

The boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), both come from troubled homes, which might explain why they gravitate toward this mysterious older man: Ellis’ parents are breaking up and Neckbone lives with his uncle and his little memory of his parents. Another crucial character is a weathered old man named Tom Blankenship (Sam Shepard) who lives in the river house across from Ellis’, and is one of the few people Mud trusts. We are informed that he was once a sniper, and you can bet that this is the sort of movie where he’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate his skills.

What makes 'Mud' immediately compelling is its sense of place. Nichols knows this territory well. He understands the people who live there, and the appeal, as well as the challenge, of living in a rural community where earning a decent living is becoming harder and harder. Ellis loves his house on the river, and the beauty and sense of freedom it offers; when faced with the prospect of moving into town, he yells, 'I ain’t no townie!' This is a corner of America that has seen some hard times, and Nichols portrays his characters with the compassion and complexity they deserve; 'Mud' might be a fable, but it always feels real."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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