Like a gigantic guy doing a cannonball into a kiddie pool, a big movie release like Iron Man 3 tends to tsunami all the other movie releases out of the way. For those of us destined to watch several movies per week this can sometimes lead to a dearth of options. However, I appreciate it as these weekends are often a good chance to get caught up on independent films that would otherwise slip my net.
Thus we come to Mud, a Stand by Me-esque coming of age story with snakes and bounty hunters. Independent films I try to treat differently from movies with an actual budget, yet ironically they often come out better than multi million dollar fiascoes like the Last Stand. When the credits are rolling you come to realize that all the star power and slick special effects mean nothing if the writing sucks, and a good story with good acting will shine through all the budget limitations in the world.
That’s not to say this movie has bad production or lacks star power. I was kind of surprised at the cast, including Matthew McConaughey and Reece Witherspoon. The acting, direction, and camera work had the same production values as any number of bigger Hollywood films. On the other hand I’m not going to say the story and writing were flawless. It was good, and a fun, interesting story but there were a number of sub plots that did little but add to the considerable 130 minute run time and secondary characters that were either worthlessly emphasized or not emphasized enough. I will say however that most movies tend to fall back into the wailing mass that is my movie memory in short order and this one has caused me to reflect on it quite a bit. Take that for what you will.
The story is of two young boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan-the Tree of Life) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland-first movie credit) living on the Mississippi delta. They sneak out on a small boat to check out a boat wreck stuck up in a tree on a small island. While there they meet Mud (Matthew McConaughey-Magic Mike, the Lincoln Lawyer, a Time to Kill), a drifter living in the boat. Mud offers them the boat when he leaves if they bring him so food. Ellis is intrigued by Mud.
Back home Ellis goes to work with his father (Ray McKinnon-the Blind Side, O Brother Where Art Thou, Apollo 13) delivering fish. His father is not going to win any father of the year awards and is having trouble with his wife (Sarah Paulson-Serenity, Down with Love, What Women Want (she was the doctor in the hologram from Serentity. Firefly image courtesy of the Firefly T Shirt category)). She wants to move to town but if she does they will lose the houseboat they live on and his livelihood. Ellis does not want to leave. He goes back to the island with some canned food for Mud.
Turns out Mud is wanted for killing a man. Mud tells Ellis a story about how this man hurt his girlfriend Juniper (Reece Witherspoon-Walk the Line, This Means War, Legally Blond) and he shot him. He is back in town to meet up with her. Meanwhile he decides he needs the boat to make his escape and works a deal for the repair supplies he needs in exchange for his pistol. Neckbone wants the gun but Ellis is more into the story of romance. It is established that he wants to believe in love as his parents are splitting up.
Bounty hunters hired by the dead man’s father (Joe Don Baker-if you want to laugh your ass of find the MST3K cover of Mitchel. Golden Eye, Cape Fear, Tomorrow Never Dies) and brother (Paul Sparks-Edge of Darkness, Trust Me, Boardwalk Empire) are all over the town. Juniper shows up and hangs out at a hotel. At that point the kids go on a Easter Egg hunt, more or less stealing the supplies Mud needs to get the boat out of the tree and in the water without sinking. He asks his old father figure Tom (Sam Shepard-the Right Stuff, Black Hawk Down, Safe House) for help but is refused. Meanwhile Ellis is dealing with his family breaking up and a tertiary romance with a girl in his town (Bonnie Sturdivant-Ol’ Daddy, the Great Mistake). Neckbone’s uncle (Michael Shannon-Bad Boys II, Vanilla Sky, Pearl Harbor) shows up to dispense some Delta wisdom and show what a good guy he is. At that point the plot thread frays into a bunch of sub plots until it all comes to a head.
Matthew McConaughey kind of kicked ass acting-wise. One star. The entire cast actually did a great job, especially the two kids. Two stars. The story was not your typical Hollywood crap, which I appreciate. Two stars. I kind of have a secret love of Southern culture and it was well displayed here. One star. I like movies that show kids doing stuff like we used to do as a kid, which is run around unsupervised and getting into trouble (in the perfect world in my head anyone who utters the phrase “play date” in a non disparaging manner will simply be sterilized for the good of humanity). One black hole. Overall a good movie, and one that has stuck with me. Two stars. Total: nine stars.
The black holes:
Not a lot really. I will give one for the numerous and unnecessary sub plots and minor characters, and for all the secondary characters who should have had more development time (Ellis’s parents, for example). One black hole. Somehow the last ten minutes shifted gears from a cool character story into an action film. One black hole. I could give one for this movie seemingly padded out and running long, but I suspect the director was purposely using that as a tool to show the slower life style of Southern river culture. Also the characters kept me from feeling it too much so I will forgo. Total: two black holes.
A grand total of seven stars. An excellent movie overall. It’s not going to blow up like Argo did but it is kind of in the same indy camp. If you can see it please do. Nothing here requires a big screen but see it in a theater if you can, if only to help encourage more good indy films. Date movie? Absolutely. This movie will warm her heart, and since the best looking guy in the film is a smelly homeless man you should far pretty will in comparison. Just be careful if she is a big Magic Mike fan. Bathroom break? The May Pearl romance is the most worthless and undeveloped of the sub plots so any of the scenes involving her and Ellis can be missed with no real problem.
Thanks for reading. More coming out this weekend, including the Great Gatsby and Peeples. I will see them both and get you a review ASAP. Follow me on Twitter @Nerdkungfu. If you have comments on this film or my review feel free to leave it here. Off topic questions and suggestions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Talk to you soon.