Mud (2013)

Mud filmA coming-of-age drama that dirties up genre conventions with surprisingly adult concerns, Mud is the third feature from Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols. It also contains the latest in a string of increasingly solid turns from Matthew McConaughey, who emerged from his rom-coma around 2011 and is finally fulfilling the promise of 1996’s A Time To Kill.

Though Mud is named after McConaughey’s character, a grubby loner living in self-imposed exile on a remote Arkansas island, it’s the fuse that Mud lights in 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) that gives the film its impetus. The pair meet when Ellis and best bud Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) head to the island in search of a boat left in a tree by the last flood.

There, they find Mud. Superstitious, romantic, a teller of tall tales, he’s in the middle of hatching a desperate plan to get back his love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), while evading the targets of vengeful bounty hunters. Resolving to help Mud out, Ellis and Neck become his willing aids. But could Mud be more dangerous than he’s letting on?

Told almost exclusively from Ellis’ point of view (there are only a handful of times that the audience is granted access to conversations that Ellis isn’t), Nichols’ take on the traditional coming-of-ager is an affecting, poetically-lensed exploration of how a teenager’s ideals don’t match those of a complex, contradictory adult world.

Example: Ellis’ certainty that Mud and Juniper belong together, which is both unquestioning and naive. “They love each other,” he tells neighbour Tom (Sam Shepard), and it’s no coincidence that Ellis’ own parents are on the brink of divorce. This idea of love and heartbreak beats through Mud, and it’s never more poignant than in Ellis’ puppy-dog affection for an older teen whose growing apathy he can’t understand.

For his part, Sheridan perfectly captures Ellis’ inner struggle, imbuing his thoroughly modern Huck Finn with pluck, warmth and not a little frailty. He’s as naturalistic as he was in The Tree of Life (Nichols himself shares that film’s love of gorgeous nature shots), and Sheridan’s relationship with Lofland’s comic-relief swear machine is just one of the many elements that keeps Mudrooted in a relatable reality.

As well as Huck Finn, there are also echoes of last year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, another tale centred around a youngster’s attempts to understand a discombobulating world while living in ramshackle riverside humility. While Mud doesn’t stray into the same fantasy-hued terrain as Beasts, they’ll make for a fantastic double bill one day.

Really, there are few stumbles in Nichols’ film, which forgoes the all-out crazy of Take Shelter for something slower and more intimate. It’s a film about family and love; themes that McConaughey brilliantly encapsulates in his chip-toothed anti-hero. Baked hard by the sun, he’s as much of a kid as Ellis; the world’s chewed him up and spat him out again. He’s everything Ellis wants to be, and everything he shouldn’t be. It’s this clever gambit that Mud enjoys toying with, and the result is an immersive drama that skips ‘adult rite of passage’ cliché by striking a killer blow to the heart. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works

The Paperboy (2012)

kinopoisk.ruGrainy, sweat-smeared and more kitsch than an Elvis Presley bedspread, The Paperboy has a title that sounds like a made-for-TV Disney movie, but it’s easily the most outrageous film of the year. A kaleidoscope of murder, sex and violence, Lee Daniels’ (Precious) third directorial effort is a swampy oddity as brazen as it is wilfully bizarre.

The year is 1969 and Miami Times reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) has just returned home to Florida with colleague Yardley (David Oyelowo) in tow. They’re researching the story of Florida resident Charlotte (Nicole Kidman), a perma-tanned blonde bombshell who’s been writing to a prisoner on death row.

Charlotte’s convinced that inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) is innocent of the murder of Sheriff Thurmond Call, and she wants Ward to help her prove it. Roping in younger brother Jack (Zac Efron) to help, Ward leads this strange band of truth-seekers into dark, alligator-infested waters.

Adapted from Pete Dexter’s 1995 novel, The Paperboy is a trashy neo-noir populated with the kind of characters that rarely see the light of day in mainstream movies. From Macy Gray’s sardonic, long-suffering housemaid (who also provides a rasping narration) to Kidman’s beautifully complex Barbie, it’s the characters that make Paperboy riveting from start to finish despite a catalogue of sins.

Those sins are, in all honesty, plentiful. Frequently lacking in focus and devoid of tension when it’s needed, Daniels’ film tumbles along making casual remarks about racism and sexuality that never really carry much weight. The film’s often messy, unsure just which story it really wants to tell, and its central mystery is distracting instead of intriguing.

So why the four stars? Well, all of that can be accepted (if not excused) in the captivating presence of The Paperboy’s unconventional players. Efron and Kidman are the heart of the film, both adrift, both toying with conventional ideas of beauty. She enjoys his covetous gazes, in turn playing up to his image of her (according to Gray’s narration) as “his mama, high school sweetheart and an oversexed Barbie doll all at once”. The Paperboy isn’t looking for easy answers; it’s content with the rough and tumble as it deals out killer one-liners and instantly iconic images.

If Efron’s growing maturity impresses, and Kidman’s gung-ho approach thrills, it’s Cusack who’s the real surprise here. Dirty in more ways than one, he’s a revelation as sex-obsessed inmate Hillary, and central to many of Paperboy’s most memorable moments – including a ‘psychic’ sex scene with Kidman that has to be seen to be believed.

Flying its freak flag with pride, Daniels’ film is a weird, mesmerising ball of contradictions, buoyed by the strength of its performances, but also aesthetically gorgeous (it was shot on Super 16, which gives the film a lovely grubby look). It’s sexy, shocking and stylish, and you’ve never seen anything like it. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works