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Sundance '13 Review: McConaughey Is Mesmerizing In Jeff Nichols' Terrific MUD

Director: Jeff Nichols

Screenwriter: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon

Official synopsis: Ellis and Neckbone are best friends approaching the twilight of their youth. While exploring, they stumble upon the hiding place of charismatic outlaw Mud (played with controlled charm by a well-cast Matthew McConaughey), who takes a quick liking to the boys and recruits them to his cause: the search for true love and a clean getaway.

Illustrating a vibrant imagination, sumptuous attention to detail, and a remarkable gift for extracting magnetic performances from a talented ensemble, Nichols hurtles us into the middle of a lush adventure, ensnaring the excitement every youngster feels when trouble lurks everywhere and anything is possible. Steeped in the vanishing myth of the Deep South, a place that Nichols dearly loves, Mud’s handcrafted vision shines through in each richly textured frame and proves a tall tale for the ages.

Performances

Continuing his excellent post-rom-com streak of taking on provocative and interesting roles, Matthew McConaughey and his infamous Southern drawl are the perfect fit for the character of Mud. The actor is completely mesmerizing, spinning yarns to his two young friends with charm to spare. It's a quiet performance, and you can feel the soul of this character burning deep in McConaughey's chest. As Ellis, the young protagonist, actor Tye Sheridan holds his own against the A-lister while Jacob Lofland tags along mostly as the comic relief. Sam Shepard is solid as a stoic neighbor, and even Reese Witherspoon - an actress I normally can't stand - does a really nice job here. It's clear that one of Nichols' many strengths as a director is working with actors, and he coaxes great work out of just about every member of the cast.

Story and Direction

Nichols is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers, and his moody appreciation of small town life is a hallmark of his style. This movie is full of symbolism and thematic connections, and while a lot of them are very obvious, it's the kind of movie that makes you feel good for being able to figure them out. Ellis essentially plays a younger version of Mud here, with the same headstrong personality and naive outlook on relationships. While the movie may appear to be about a couple of kids aiding a fugitive, it's actually a coming of age story for Ellis about his search for the meaning of love. I realize that sounds cheesy, but Nichols navigates the material with a naturalism and ease that makes the whole film feel inevitable. There are also moments of extreme suspense and violence, and at many points, it reminded me of something the Coen Brothers might write and direct. It's still January, but I imagine when I look back on 2013 in film, Mud could be a contender for one of my favorite movies of the year.

Similar To

It's easy to compare Mud to Nichols' 2011 film Take Shelter, and while you can definitely sense that the two were made by the same filmmaker, perhaps a better comparison would be to the Clint Eastwood film A Perfect World, which stars Kevin Costner as an escaped criminal who kidnaps and befriends a young boy.

Chances That You'll See it in Theaters

If you live in New York or Los Angeles, it's very likely you'll see it since it already has a limited release date set for April 23rd, 2013. As for the rest of the country, we'll have to wait and see if it can expand wider.

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