MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions
Directed by Jeff Nichols. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan.
Sometimes in the midst of a great adventure comes a moment of hard reckoning, and it is hard sometimes to discern whether you’ve made a big mistake or discovered a deep truth. Jeff Nichols’ Mud is a remarkable film that shares the story of two middle-school-age boys who find themselves entangled in the intrigues of a charismatic stranger and the mysteries of becoming men.
Ellis (Sheridan) and his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are friends who live with their working-class families along the Mississippi River in Arkansas. They help their families by selling seafood out of Styrofoam coolers and spend their playtime riding their dirt bikes in the woods, going boating, and exploring a small river island. One day they discover a boat that’s been caught in high tree branches, abandoned following a long-past storm. They are ready to call the boat their own but discover that someone’s been living inside. Following footprints made in the sand by boots with a cross imprint, they meet the occupant of the boat, a man who goes by the name of Mud (McConaughey). He’s on the run from the law for a crime of passion and desperate to reconnect with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), the love of his life. Could the boys help him with just a few favors?
Mud seems to be a nice guy, in spite of the pistol he keeps tucked in the back of his pants, and there are many things that make him appealing to Ellis, whose parents’ marriage is on the skids and who is beginning to make some moves to impress a girl at school. Ellis and Neckbone decide to take a chance. It’s true love after all, isn’t it?
Writer-director Nichols said he got his inspiration for Mud from the boys’ books of Mark Twain, particularly “Tom Sawyer”. Mud is the kind of story that most older children would enjoy, filled with memorable characters, surprises, and unexpected discoveries (although there are a few pitchforks to be reckoned with).
The story takes place sometime in the last century, before smart phones and Amber alerts, and the lack of technology is a welcome presence. I predict that more films will be set in the past simply so the writers don’t have to interrupt the action with constant texting, phone calls, and tweets.
The acting is universally excellent (including the often underrated Mr. McConaughey), and Tye Sheridan gives a great performance as Ellis, with a scene of a first kiss that is just about perfect.
This is really a great little independent film that deserves to be seen. You’ll like it or my name is Mud!
Three halos: An insightful coming-of-age movie married to a boy’s adventure story.
Two pitchforks: Not as foul-mouthed as Stand By Me, but it does include discreet shots of girlie magazines, implied sexual shenanigans, drug use, swearing and criminal acts. Some parents will find this to be a good discussion film to watch with older youth and others may have some real problems; view it first and then reach your own conclusions.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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