So, here's my review of “Mud,” which will play at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow morning on Spokane Public Radio. You can catch podcasts of my other reviews, along with those of Nathan Weinbender, by going here.
But for those who like to read, here is “Mud”:
Since the first time he stepped onto the big screen – which, if you don’t count his performance as Guy No. 2 in the 1993 film “My Boyfriend’s Back,” was as David Wooderson in “Dazed and Confused” that same year – Matthew McConaughey has been one of the most magnetic actors in Hollywood.
David Wooderson, by the way, was the guy who drove a muscle car around Austin, Texas, and was famous for saying, “That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”
For a time, McConaughey appeared in such serious-minded films as John Sayles’ “Lone Star” and Steven Spielberg’s “Amistad.” But then, maybe because he thought he needed to or maybe because he just wanted some easy paydays or maybe because he had bad representation, he began to settle for one forgettable mainstream project after the next.
Count them: “The Wedding Planner,” “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Two for the Money,” “Failure to Launch,” “Fool’s Gold,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” The list goes on.
Most of these films are so … well, not bad, exactly. But certainly minor. And certainly not the kind of movies that serious actors pursue. It got so that when McConaughey would star in a decent film – “Bernie,” say, or “Magic Mike” – his work would get panned. Or, worse, go unnoticed. Now, though, all that might change with a little film by Jeff Nichols called, simply, “Mud.”
Mud, actually, is the name of McConaughey’s character, a guy so desperate to reconnect with the woman he loves that he’s resorted to camping out on a remote river island, hiding from men who want him dead. Yet he’s charismatic enough to charm two teenage boys into helping him pull a battered boat out of a tree, a boat that he hopes to use as his get-away.
To play Mud, McConaughey uses every bit of his innate charm to ensure his character has the qualities needed to outshine the work of a cast that includes Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon, Ray McKinnon and Michael Shannon – not to mention the two young actors, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, whose story makes at least half of the overall movie seem like a variation on the 1986 teen flick “Stand By Me.”
The talents on display here, plus writer-director Nichols’ ability to delve below stereotype and capture an authentic sense of the contemporary south, is what makes “Mud” worth watching. Nichols, who explored a more mystical vision in his emotionally charged 2011 film “Take Shelter,” doesn’t meld his different plot points in a way that’s completely satisfying. And the ending he leaves us with offers both too much, and too little, of a resolution.
Yet it’s clear that Nichols has skills. I shudder to think what any number of other, more mainstream, filmmakers would have done with “Mud’s” different parts. How they likely would have keyed more on the boys, converting the movie into another Stephen King cliche. Or how they would have underlined McConaughey’s every utterance while rounding off his natural edges, making him into the one thing that he – the consummate character actor – was never destined to be: a classic example of a Hollywood leading man