I don’t know if I can trust Matthew McConaughey. He’ll star in a movie like Amistad and I’m ready to join the fan club. Then Failure to Launch will come along and I’m on the verge of throwing him overboard. When I heard rave reviews about his performance in Mud, I quietly wondered if this would be the film that finally gets the romantic comedy virus out of his system. In the end, it just might.
Mud, while sporting McConaughey, is told from the perspective of a young teenage boy named Ellis (Tye Sheridan). Ellis and his friend Neckbone (you definitely won’t forget his name), by chance discover a mysterious man living on an island not far from their Arkansas home. They soon find out that this stranger goes by the name Mud (this is where McConaughey steps in). Mud is temporarily living in solitude, waiting to meet up with his childhood love Juniper (you won’t forget her name either). The stranger’s story gets even more intriguing when the boys find out that he isn’t exactly on the right side of the law. On the contrary, Mud is actually wanted for murder and the island is his way of evading both the authorities and the vengeful family of the man he killed. Sensing that their new pal is nicer than his rap sheet contends, Ellis and Neckbone set out to help him find a way to reunite with Juniper (played by Reese Witherspoon) and get out of town in one piece.
The cast of Mud is stellar and Matthew McConaughey gives me hope that he’s past his chick flick stage. His turn as the superstitious, complex Mud is remarkable. I’d probably trust him even if he was running from the police. When McConaughey is on, he is on.
The story also lends itself to his performance. I quickly realized that Mud isn’t your typical thriller. Yes it’s tense and there is a shootout (they live in Arkansas, there has to be a shootout somewhere), the overall scope of the film, however, is concerned with something greater than car chases or fiery explosions. The filmmakers chose instead to develop each character–and the plot line in general– around the unifying theme of lost love. The story isn’t so much about Mud’s saga, as it is about Ellis’ eyes being opened to shattered relationships and broken promises. When the film begins, Ellis is idealistic about what it means to love someone. Then, as his world slowly starts to expand, coinciding with the appearance of Mud, Ellis’ perspective widens to discover a much more brutal aspect to relationships. Vows are broken. Promises shattered.
The story as a whole is very different from the lowered reviewed films of McConaughey’s career. Sometimes happily ever after isn’t always ever after. Mud presents a darker realism in both the atmosphere of the story and in virtue. We, like the characters in Mud, live in a world fractured by lies, hurt, and unfaithfulness. Life is sometimes dirty. Muddy.
But instead of drifting towards nihilism, the story of Mud ends by understanding fractured relationships as a sign that restored relationships do exist. In one sense, the bad in the world helps us realize that there is such a thing as good. If lost love didn’t hurt, then there would be no need for found love.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argues for the existence of virtue and morality, by pointing to the existence of evil. By acknowledging that feelings like pain and hurt are inherently bad, we (sometimes unknowingly) acknowledge that there are objective moral values outside of ourselves. Immorality is proof that there is morality. Hate is an argument for the existence of love. Fractured relationships only reinforce that there is a true, pure relationship that we hold up to in comparison. We have an example by which to judge what is good or bad. Mud helps us realize what clean really is. If this is the case, where does virtue come from? Nature? Evolution? Lewis argues that the answer reveals itself in a God by which morality and virtue finds its meaning.
Mud, thus by acknowledging heartbreak, also acknowledges the power of genuine love and trusting relationships.
In some ways, I think this compares well to Matthew McConaughey’s career. Maybe the reason why I’m so disappointed in some of his performances, is because I know there’s potential for so much more. We have something good which, through comparison, reveals what is bad. Wow, and I didn’t even need to take off my shirt to figure that one out.
Mud is a character-driven drama, that is rich in detail and leads up to a satisfying finale. With great performances on all sides, Mud offers both depth and an honest look at love. Mud is rated PG-13 for some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking and is now available on DVD and BluRay.
4 ½ out of 5 Stars