LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- THV 11 Film Critic Jonathan Nettles on Mud the latest film from Arkansas director Jeff Nichols starring Matthew McConaughey.
I am not a fan of Matthew McConaughey. To me, he started off strong with dramas like The Pelican Brief and Contact but then got stuck in the romantic comedy black hole from which few escape. Recently, he's returned to dramatic roles, taking some risks and leaping out of the black hole. It started with The Lincoln Lawyer and carried through Magic Mike and Killing Joe. This is where we are with Mud.
McConaughey plays the title character but he's not the lead. That honor goes to young actor Tye Sheridan. He plays Ellis, a teenager who will probably remind you of other small town teens. Ellis and his pal Neckbone (played by Yell County native Jacob Lofland) retreat to an island on the Mississippi River, there they find a boat in a tree. Along with the boat they find Mud. They come to find that Mud is a man on the run from the law. He's hiding out there waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), to meet him. He enlists Ellis and Neckbone to get the boat repaired and ready for the water so he can make his escape to the gulf. The boys get caught in the middle of Juniper and Mud's rocky relationship as it turns out that neither one of them are who they claim to be. They elude bounty hunter who are hot on the trail of Juniper and Mud and do a lot of growing up along the way as their lives are both changing.
It was a big deal when this town was shot in Arkansas. The state was abuzz with sightings of Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey. The biggest story to me was how well Arkansas was represented in the film; from Jacob Lofland to Ray McKinnon, to the extras, and the locations on which the film was shot. The films writer and director is the up-and-coming North Little Rock native Jeff Nichols who won over the press corps at the famous Cannes Film Festival with his passion and genuine humility. Before the premiere I asked him how excited he was to be able to bring the film home and show it to everyone. His response was a simple "Ask me again in two hours". I have a very strong feeling that one day his name will appear on some ballet boxes for some major awards and not matter the direction that all the people in South Arkansas who worked on the film go, they will one day hear his name called on a stage and take pride that they shared an experience with him that few will have.
It could be Mud that shows up on the ballot box. It's that good. The story is characterized as part Tom Sawyer and part Huckleberry Finn and that's a pretty accurate description. I can't disagree with that that at all. The story is compelling and interesting with great performances from everyone. I look forward to seeing the careers of Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland develop in front of us and I really look forward to seeing more of Jeff Nichols work.
Also this week, Pain & Gain from director Michael Bay is based on the true story of a trio of bodybuilders that get caught up in an extortion ring and a kidnapping scheme that goes horribly wrong. It stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Mark Wahlberg and is being promoted as a an action-comedy. The true story is much more grisly and complicated so it will be interesting to see if the movie takes a turn that direction or if it stays true to its' marketing.
The Big Wedding stars Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams. It centers on a long-divorced couple (Keaton and De Niro) who fakes being married as their family unites for a wedding.