I think I was thinking this Matthew McConaughey Mud had some anti-government messaging in it, as a follow-up to the previous day’s scathing attack on bureaucracy, Still Mine, but on reflection I’m not really sure it is, particularly.
It’s somewhat reminiscent of my favorite movie of last year Beasts of the Southern Wild, in which the government was an implacable, overbearing force, in that it’s a coming-of-age story that takes place in the south (Arkansas, not Louisiana), where the river and water represent freedom and joy in living. And also where a government decree is going to end that life, so I guess it is to that extent.
This movie, written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) is about a couple of pubescent boys who gambol around the delta and run across a fugitive named Mud (McConaughey) who’s hiding out from the law, waiting for his girl, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), and needs some help keeping out of sight and escaping from the dragnet that’s out for him.
Now, Mud isn’t the main character. He’s just the catalyst for the story and the lens through which the actual main character, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) views his impending adulthood.
Basically, Mud is about love. Romantic love. Mud is a guy who epitomizes Ellis’ idea of love. He’s on the run because he killed a man who beat his darling Juniper. That’s love, right? Not like his squabbling parents, who are on the verge of divorce. But maybe like May Pearl (Bonnie Sturdivant), this girl he’s sweet on.
But probably not.
It’s fair to say women do not come off well in this flick, which, interestingly (for all the war on men) talk, has been an undercurrent in several movies we’ve seen lately.
Mud adores Juniper, but she in no way behaves like a woman who deserves to be fought for so fiercely. (I’m not a big fan, but Witherspoon is great in this role.) His mom, Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson of Serenity, “Deadwood” and Martha Marcy May Marlene) seems to be perfectly willing to destroy the family on the basis of, well, her husband’s just not up to what she figures she deserves. May Pearl is a teen girl who has no concept (or interest) in Ellis’ intensity.
But there’s nothing about this movie that’s simple.
We can certainly believe Juniper when she says Mud isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, and Ellis’ dad is kind of a mope, and Ellis certainly went overboard in his affections toward May Pearl.
Life ain’t simple. It’s messy.
Through it, you can count on your friends, or so you hope. In this film, Ellis’ companion is the steadfast Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), but Mud also has a father-figure/friend in Tom Blankeship (Sam Shepard). It’s only poor old dad (Ray McKinnon, also of “Deadwood”) who doesn’t seem to have a friend to fall back on, in fact. And he’s not doing too well.
Oh, and Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) is Neckbone’s older brother who has a small but significant role as someone who follows a kind of Man Code in dealing (and not dealing) with Ellis, Neckbone and Mud.
This was kind of weird. Shannon was totally normal in this. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him not play a prophet, psycho, drug addict or hit man before.
Anyway, an excellent film that I think reaches the greatness that Take Shelter narrowly missed. Barely cracked the top ten at the box office, I think.
The Boy also really enjoyed it, while picking up on another theme: Honesty. The movie had a lot of plot points revolving around how people handled situations, truthfully or otherwise.
Unlike a lot of films that, when you think them over, they get worse and worse, this one gets richer and richer.
Oh! And Joe Don Baker was in it! I had to explain to The Boy why I called out Mitchell! when he came on screen.