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Tag: ” Michael Shannon

“Eric LaRue” Screens on Friday the 13th (2023) with Director Michael Shannon

Judy Greer as Janice LaRue in the Michael Shannon-directed movie “Eric LaRue.”

Michael Shannon steps behind the camera to direct the film version of a play written by good friend and award-winning writer Brett Neveu. The 2002 play, “Eric LaRue,” deals with the aftermath of a school shooting. It does not focus on the crime itself, but on the effect the murders have on the shooter’s parents and on the community, at large. The film premiered at Tribeca and played the 59th Chicago International Film Festival on Friday, the 13th of October, 2023.

Four films come to mind that “Eric LaRue” resembles:  “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2011); “Mass” (2021)  “Vox Lux” (2018); and 2010’s “Beautiful Boy.”  In each case, the school shooting plunges the families of those involved into chaos. In this film, the entire community is upset. Janice works at Dellride’s Rightsmart and the floor manager, Jack (Lawrence Grimm), while vaping outside the store, tells Janice that her return to work has upset everyone and she should take another 2 to 4 months off. When Janice asks what she should do during that time, he says, “Meditate. Read a book.” Nobody wants to be around Janice. However,  often working is what helps keep a traumatized person sane.

Shannon, in the Q&A following the film’s screening at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival, said, “This movie really seemed to be about this country. Only one word sums it up: confusion. The country doesn’t make any f***** sense, so I wanted to make a movie about that, and I did.” Indeed, at one point, in a climactic scene opposite his mother Janice (Judy Greer) the title character, now in prison, says, “At the time, I thought I had no choice. Now it makes no sense.” Nation Sage Henrikson plays the teen-aged Eric in the film’s climactic scene. He adds, “Things got out of control in my mind and I screwed up.” The surprising thing is that Eric expresses and feels real remorse, while his mother seems bent on defending the indefensible. That made no sense. Referencing Director Shannon’s remarks at the beginning of this paragraph, that seems true of the nation and the world right now. (GOP, Israel, Ukraine, weather—no need to go on.)

Director Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon on October 13, 2023 at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.


The acting from this cast of luminaries is as good as it gets. For a small film, it has a stellar ensemble.  Judy Greer (“The Village,” “Adaptation”) plays Janice, the mother of a school shooter, and Alexander Skarsgard (“Big Little Lies,” “Succession”) plays her husband, Ron LaRue. Tracy Letts—who has been in 5 pictures that were Best Picture nominated—plays Pastor Billy Verne at Redeemer Church. (Letts is better known for his play “August: Osage County” or “Killer Joe.” He appeared in “The Big Short” (2015); “The Post” (2017); “Lady Bird” (2017); “Ford vs. Ferrari” (2019) and “Little Women” (2019).)

Judy Greer carries this film on her slim shoulders.  Her performance is Oscar caliber. Janice is doing her best to cope with the horror of her son’s actions. While Ron, her husband, turns to religion in a big way, Janice LaRue actively rejects giving her troubles to Jesus. She is trying to cope, but she has to do it her way, not her husband’s dictatorial way. Quoting 1st Timothy about a husband’s right to rule his household and apologizing to one of the mothers who lost a son in a teary breakdown is not cutting it for Janice, who tells Ron so. (Ron to Janice: “I don’t think you know what you think.”) For Janice, the “His blood will heal you” talk is not cutting it.

Plus, it appears that Ron’s attendance  at Bible readings with Allison Pill may be thinly-concealed unconsummated lust. She is his manager at work and seems to be quite fond of hugging Ron at every opportunity in an overly flirtatious manner, whether appropriate or not. (“I’m the H.R. manager, so I make the rules.”) Ms. Pill does a great job with the part.


The discordant sounds of hymns that are off-key and Jonathan Madro’s original music add a lot to the mood, which is, as you would expect, grim and depressing.


Andrew Wheeler was the cinematographer and the Wilmington, North Carolina area is the film’s setting. The cast took up residence at the Residence Inn. They socialized nightly. Kate Arrington (who plays the mother of one of the murdered boys) is Michael Shannon’s wife and the mother of his two daughters. (Kate plays the mother  who is working on forgiveness.)


Eric LaRue

(L to R), Mimi Plauche, artistic director of Cinema Chicago, Screenwriter Brett Neveu, and Director Michael Shannon onstage at the Music Box Theater on October 13, 2023.

There were a number of interesting shots  in the film.

One was the close-up of a stained glass window that seems to show a Biblical figure about to cut his wrists with a wicked-looking dagger. Another was the truly inspired shot of the Bible-thumping Ron in a booth opposite a crowned-with-thorns Jesus, who is sipping a soft drink through a straw (while bleeding from his wounds). [Genius!] And, of course, there is the final scene, which was beautifully composed,with Janice walking away down a long gravel road and shedding her jacket as she goes. Does this symbolize Janet “walking away from” the entire situation? Or was it simply failure of the gymnast to stick the ending? Out of appreciation for the talents involved, I’ll stick with the former for what seemed like an anti-climactic ending.


There is A LOT of religious fervor shown onscreen and A LOT of quoting of religious phrases. A good editor could cut out about 20 to 30 minutes of this, as the film runs just one minute shy of 2 hours. There is also a great deal of plot devoted to which pastor (!st Presbyterian or Redeemer) will do the honors on assembling the mothers of the 3 slain boys in a meeting with Janice LaRue, the mother of the murderer. The entire middle of the film hinges on which pastor (Tracy Letts or Paul Sparks) will win out. Do we care? Some of us think it’s a lousy idea, since it could lead to more bloodshed. Stephanie Grazer (Annie Parisse) is embittered and blames Janice and her entire family. That seemed normal and logical. She asks the browbeaten Janice, “When you go home at night with your son in prison and your neck massage husband, are you happy?” (A: “No.”) That is right before Stephanie tells Janice to “Go to hell.” Stephanie also alludes to the family being outcasts long before Eric went postal, while Eric’s Mom retells stories of school bullying of her son.

When you have a character like Minister Steve Calhan moderating a potentially explosive meeting of three women (one woman, Laura, has gotten religion Big Time and does not attend the meeting at 1st Presbyterian, but is shown talking in tongues and having a fit at Redeemer Church with Janice’s husband Ron), you are asking for trouble.  Example of Pastor Steve’s words of wisdom:  “We all understand your involvement—that you weren’t involved.” (Eye roll).  Steve Calhan seems out of his depth.


Eric LaRue

Michael Shannon at the Music Box Theater during the Q&A following the screening of “Eric LaRue” on October 13, 2023.

The logical end of the film might have been the prison meeting between Janice and Eric. The only way I “get” the walk-down-the-road ending is if Janice is walking away from it all (which she probably should have done much earlier in this film.)

I enjoyed Michael Shannon’s remarks about Janice being like a film director. Said Shannon, “People give you notes, and you either say (a) I’m not doing that (b) Why did they suggest that? Or (c) What’s a better thing I could do? I think Janice is like a film director in responding to her situation the same way.”

Shannon did not sound as though he was inspired to direct more movies. Said Shannon, “I can’t afford to make more movies. I can make more money kicking an ATM. It is impossible to get one made, impossible to fund them, and impossible to sell them.” He said, “We’re going to take something that is pretty much impossible and make it completely impossible.”

But, as Writer Brett Neveu said, “We were all working together to find the truth.”

Two Rentable New Films: “The Forgiven” & “Abandoned” (Rent or Pass?)


We checked out two new films recently, I’ll give you an idea about them to save you the time.

After checking out the trailers on my Guide movie-for rent list, I narrowed the choices to “The Forgiven” or “Abandoned.”

“The Forgiven” starred Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain, a big plus. It was on Amazon Prime and the price of each was $7.95 to rent. The rating by the audience on IMDB was only 5.8 out of 10, but these two are Oscar caliber actors. Plus, I liked another co-star, Christopher Abbott, who dallies with the married Jo Henninger in the film while her husband is away.

“Abandoned” is a horror thriller starring Emma Roberts, John Gallagher, Jr. (“Network News”) and one of my all-time favorites, Michael Shannon.

We watched “The Forgiven” first, and that ended up being the better choice. It is a well-crafted film with a plot set in Morocco and examining what happens when a couple on their way to a wedding accidentally hits and kills a young man on the dark highway who is selling fossils. (Apparently, selling fossils is a big industry for the locals. Who knew?) It also had an appearance by Christopher Abbott, who I knew from “James White,” where he played Cynthia Nixon’s son, and “It Comes At Night” in 2017—a horror movie that never quite delivered on the successful atmospheric brooding cinematography of Director Trey Edward Shults.

IMDB describes the plot this way: “The Forgiven takes place over a weekend in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and explores the reverberations of a random accident on the lives of both the local Muslims, and Western visitors to a house party in a grand villa.: Director James Michael McDonagh filmed on location; we get an inside look at the Arabic culture in what appears to be one of those countries that our former president described as “a s***ole country,” The folks flocking to the villa in the middle of nowhere appear to be either Euro-trash or, as one is identified, the style editor from a famous women’s magazine, which shall be nameless for the intention of this review.

Jessica (Chastain) and Ralph (Fiennes) are an unhappily married couple, Jo and David Henninger, on the verge of divorce. After David hits and kills the young native boy, the authorities are contacted. The boy’s father comes to the villa and demands that Ralph accompany him back to the desolate village from whence he came. We learn that the young man (Driss) might have been planning to rob some of the rich party-goers with another youth.

Should Ralph Fiennes’ character of David Henninger accompany the dead boy’s father back to Driss’ village? If he does, what will happen? Fiennes does accompany Driss’ dad, but what happens after that, while a satisfactory surprise ending, is still one that I am processing.

“Abandoned,” on the other hand, held the promise of a young woman (Emma Roberts) suffering from post-partum depression who has recently given birth and moves, with her husband (John Gallagher, Jr.) to a remote haunted house (which, the end-of-film credits tell us, was located in Smithfield, North Carolina.)

The house had a history, but the price was right. The previous family had a psychotic father who impregnated his underage daughter three times; it is hinted that he had a way with an axe. An old wardrobe in the house seems to be the entryway to a portion of the house where some of the offspring of the underage daughter of the house live on as ghosts, [as in “American Horror Story.”]

Most of the film consists of the vulnerable Emma (Roberts) trying to work through her depression and deal with her infant son, who has a bad case of colic. Michael Shannon enters for roughly 20 minutes of film time, which is a crime in and of itself. Shannon plays the brother of the poor underage sister and he shares the couch with Emma Roberts discussing his life in the house before its occupants met untimely ends.

The movie is a total waste of the talents of an actor as talented as Michael Shannon. For that matter, the script did no favors to the young couple, both of whom are good actors.

I am glad we began our viewing with “The Forgiven,” which at least had a structure that merited sticking with it to the end, but I cannot give a thumbs-up to “Abandoned.” The films rented for $7.95. In one case it was money well spent. In the other it was a waste of time and money.

“Take Shelter:” Jeff Nichols-written-and-directed 2011 Drama (Another Jessica Chastain Film)

Jessica Chastain, with co-star (“Nick) on latest film “355.”

Last night, browsing through late-night offerings on television, Michael Shannon’s performance as a mentally-ill husband in “Take Shelter” (2011) caught my eye. If you’re a Michael Shannon fan, as I am, you’ll want to see it.

We turned over to watch it, and I was reminded that Shannon’s co-star in this intense psychological study was (drum roll, please): Jessica Chastain. It seemed only fitting that I re-watch this film, which I thoroughly enjoyed when it was new eleven years ago (when Jessica was 33).

In fact, when I had the opportunity to speak with Michael Shannon in Chicago at the premiere of Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water,” I asked Michael Shannon what his favorite film role had been. Rather than dodging the question (a question which is a little like asking, “Which of your children is your favorite?”) he immediately said “Take Shelter.”

In the film, Shannon’s character had a mother who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic at about the same age that he is, in the film. His character is obsessed with the thought that a tornado is going to devastate the town, his house, and his family, and he is taking steps to put in a below-ground storm shelter. There is a climactic scene at a school cafeteria when Shannon mesmerizes as he erupts with emotion, warning the townsfolk that they are totally unprepared for what he sees as a coming apocalypse.

Of course, by then, he has been fired from his job for having taken equipment from the construction sites he worked on to build his underground tornado shelter. His wife’s patience, what with coping with her husband’s obsession and with their young deaf daughter, seems  about to collapse.

The film has a somewhat ambiguous ending, but Shannon’s performance was dynamite, and it is safe to say that Jessica Chastain’s performance as his long-suffering but devoted wife helped. (I met Chastain at the premiere of Liv Ullman’s directorial debut of the film “Miss Julie.” Her co-star in that film was Colin Farrell.)

Jessica Chastain is now 44 years old. She seems to be moving towards directing, as articles suggest that it was her idea to put together the concept for her latest film “355.” Unfortunately, the female buddy genre, which seemed fresh, creative and new when suggested in 2018, had been co-opted by 2022. “355” is currently playing theaters, only.


Celebrities Walk the Red Carpet in Chicago at 55th Chicago International Film Festival

Chicago actor Michael Shannon greets the crowd at the AMC Theater in Chicago at the premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson)

The Chicago premier of “Knives Out” took place in Chicago at the AMC Theater and Writer/Director Rian Johnson (“The Last Jedi”) attended, along with cast member Michael Shannon, who has a longstanding connection to Chicago. The film was well-received in its Wednesday premiere and a Q&A was held following the film.

On Saturday night, Gael Garcia Bernal (Mozart in the Jungle), actor-turned-director, received a special Artistic

Director Rian Johnson at the Chicago premiere of “Knives Out.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Award and screened his second directorial effort, “Chicuarotes.” The crowd was very enthusiastic about Bernal’s attendance at the festival and presented him with a Mexican flag, while one entire row wore tee shirts that bore the name of his new film. (His first film was also screened at the festival some years ago, and he shared that the first award he ever won was given him by the Chicago International Film Festival.)

Gael Garcia Bernal on the Red Carpet in Chicago on October 26th. (Photo by Connie Wilson).

Michael Shannon as General Zod in “Superman” Showcases an Actor with “Nerves on the Outside.”

Michael Shannon as General Zod in “Superman.”

If there were two young actors, back in the day, whose work was revered by their peers (and whose onstage turns drew a crowd of other actors to watch them perform), those two were Mickey Rourke and Sean Penn. Another equally intense but more mature actor (who just won acclaim as Best Actor at Cannes in “Nebraska”) is Bruce Dern, who nailed such parts in “Coming Home” and “Black Sunday.” And, of course, you can’t forget Christopher Walken in “The Deer Hunter” and other films when discussing film portraits of personally conflicted protagonists that are delivered with ferocious intensity.

Today, the name on everyone’s lips for such roles—especially after the release of “Superman,” in which he plays the evil General Zod—is Michael Shannon. Michael Shannon’s first stage work began at age 15. Born in Lexington, Kentucky at Good Samaritan Hospital on August 7, 1974, his parents divorced and remarried five times. His mother, Geraldine Hine, is a social worker who stayed in Kentucky (reported by some other sources as “a lawyer.”)

His father, Donald Sutherland Shannon, who died November 19, 2008, took a position teaching economics at DePaul University in Chicago where he was much-honored during his 25 year tenure. Michael moved to be with his father, attending New Trier Township in Winnetka for two years. He moved back to Kentucky for his junior year. Then he attended Evanston Township High School for one semester before dropping out of school entirely.

It is ironic that Michael Shannon’s grandfather was famed entomologist Raymond Corbett Shannon, because one of the first stage roles Shannon inhabited was as the lead in 1996’s “Bug.” Shannon was cast in the stage version of the Tracy Letts play and then reprised the role in the film version in 2006, playing unhinged war veteran Peter Evans. In the film, directed by William Friedkin (“The Exorcist”), Shannon and Ashley Judd hole up in a spooky hotel room in Oklahoma and begin to hallucinate about a bug infestation. They definitely reach tin-foil hat levels of insanity. Shannon and playwright Letts played opposite one another in a pair of one-act plays, “Fun” and “Nobody,” at Evanston’s Next Lab when Letts was twenty-five.

Shannon’s acting teacher in Chicago, Jane Brody, commented in a Chicago Tribune article (June 30, 2013), “Mike once told me being onstage was the only place where he could be as angry as he felt and it was still acceptable.” As Shannon himself explained to interviewer Christopher Borrelli regarding his return to Chicago from Kentucky, “I’ve been an only child, a middle child, and an oldest child. I felt guilty because I wanted to help out, but at that age? My mother was dealing with other people’s problems all day, and then came home to a house of children. I had to leave.”

Shannon has become typecast as the intense, brooding guy steeped in pain. His role on “Boardwalk Empire” as Agent Nelson Van Alden catapulted him into viewers’ consciousness as a weird, freaked-out agent who becomes a bootlegger. He was equally riveting in a small part as a dinner guest (an outpatient from a mental institute) in “Revolutionary Road” in 2009.

In fact, Shannon received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor, but did not win. He says of the experience, pointing to a certificate that confirms he was an Academy Award nominee, “Which is what I have to show for that experience. That, and a sweatshirt saying ‘Academy Award nominee,’ which I do wear.”

Just as with the Kings of Intensity, Penn and Rourke, co-stars give telling insights into the actors by relating their interaction(s) with Shannon. Chicago actress Shannon Cochran remembers the New York run of “Bug” onstage: “I was standing over Mike (in the scene) and he was hunched down. Then, suddenly, he stood up and screamed into my face at the top of his lungs.” Adds Cochran: “OK, so, do I react? I ignored it, then spent the rest of the show assuming he was mad at me. Later, I got this note apologizing, saying he shouldn’t lose control like that, but he gets so mad when audiences don’t concentrate. We never really talked much offstage, but eventually I did end up with a little pile of notes.”

Zack Snyder, who directed Shannon in the summer blockbuster “Superman,” relates that when General Zod is sentenced to eternal prison and is vowing to destroy Superman, he is to shout, “I will find him!” once. Said Snyder, “In the script, it’s once, but Michael hemorrhaged the line.”

Co-star Paul Rudd, who appeared with Shannon in “Grace” on Broadway and is a longtime friend, says of him: “He is extremely kind, with a completely unique sense of humor. Yet other times, you realize how guarded he is…that you have no idea what he is thinking. He always leaves you guessing a bit.” His acting teacher Jane Brody would agree with Rudd. Her take? “He liked to be a mystery.”

Liatt Kornowski at the Huffington Post wrote an article entitled “15 Reasons Why Michael Shannon is the Coolest Effing Person Around.” (June 14, 2013). Not so much an article as a video tribute to the intensity of Shannon’s eyes and the eccentricity of his onscreen characters and his offscreen persona, as well. She also mentioned his intense reading of an inane sorority girl’s letter that has garnered millions of hits on YouTube, done as a favor for a Columbia College (Chicago) graduate.
When Christopher Borrelli of the Chicago Tribune interviewed Shannon , prior to the start of his star turn opposite his best friend, actor Guy Van Swearingen, in Sam Shepard’s “Simpatico” (which runs through August 25 at the Red Orchid Theater in Chicago), the duo strolled around Shannon’s Red Hook Brooklyn neighborhood with Shannon clad only in socks. Shannon helped co-found the Old Town-based Red Orchid Theater 20 years ago.

Kate Arrington, who lives with Shannon and with whom Shannon has a 5-year-old daughter, Sylvia, says of him: “Mike has a high level of anxiety. He might seem chill, but he is anxious, as anyone would be who grew up as he did, always worried about others, angry. He hates that view of himself as a guy just a bit off, playing guys a bit off. But the thing is, Mike is off. He is not a normal person! He sees the word differently.”
Two of the best films this year, so far, were “Mud,” in which Shannon had a small part as the Uncle who is raising “Neckbone,” one of the young boys who helps the stranded Matthew McConaughey and “The Iceman,” a film about Mafia hitman Michael Kuklinski. Shannon’s performance as the cold-blooded killer was spot-on. One scene in which he merely sits at the top of a flight of stairs as his secret life is about to collide with his private family life is masterful. The entire film is one of the best films of the year, so far, with such co-stars as Wynona Ryder, Ray Liotta, Stephen Dorff, Robert Davi, David Schwimmer, and Chris Evans.

Like Christopher Walken before him, Shannon has mastered the art of conveying a certain humanity to even the most depraved of men. It’s clearly his forte. Does he like that? As Shannon told Borrelli, “And so now you’ve seen that I’m a normal person. I clean the house. I take care of my family. I’m exhausted by this perception that I’m a lunatic.” But, later, when asked about the many projects he has on the docket, including “Boardwalk Empire,” “Simpatico” on stage in Chicago, maybe a small film in Chicago in the fall, he adds, very gravely, “But overall, I find myself uncertain about the future.”

What’s not uncertain about Michael Shannon’s future as an actor is that he will continue to garner much-deserved accolades for his intense portrayals. Next time, maybe he’ll get more for his pains than a sweatshirt and a certificate.

“Mud” is a Movie Well Worth Seeing

Matthew McConaughey.

My name is Mud is a familiar cliché we all know. In the new Jeff Nichols’ film (“Take Shelter,” “Shotgun Stories”), Mud is Matthew McConaughey. Nichols has been quoted as saying the film is “as if Sam Peckinpah had directed a short story by Mark Twain.”

The quote fits, because this is a film about two boys living and having adventures on the Mississippi in Writer/Director Nichols’ home state of Arkansas. Small towns like Crockett’s Bluff and Dumas were used for location shooting. (Dewitt is the name on the town water tower). Tom Sawyer is Ellis, played by Tye Sheridan (“The Tree of Life.”) Ellis’ side-kick, Huckleberry Finn to his Tom, is Nick, aka Neckbone, played by Jacob Lofland in Lofland’s film debut.

Apart from McConaughey—who turns in another interesting performance in the tradition of his more recent roles in “Magic Mike,” “The Paper Boy,” “Killer Joe” and “The Lincoln Lawyer”—Reese Witherspoon portrays Juniper, the woman for whom Mud will do anything. Sam Shepard plays an ex-CIA assassin and river rat, the closest thing Mud has to a father. Joe Don Baker lends some gravitas as King, who comes to town to supervise a team of eight men out to murder Mud. Other fine performances are turned in by Sarah Paulson (television’s “American Horror Story”) as Ellis’ mom Mary Lee and Ray McKinnon as his dad. (“O, Brother, Where Art Thou?”, television’s “Deadwood”), as well as Michael Shannon as Nick’s Uncle Galen.

Shannon appeared in Nichols’ “Take Shelter” and has forged a career playing crazies in the Bruce Dern mold, including his role as John Givings in “Revolutionary Road,” (for which he was Oscar-nominated), crazed FBI agent Nelson Van Alden in “Boardwalk Empire,” and his current starring role in “The Iceman” as real life hit man Richard Kuklinski. Shannon—who got his start in theater in Chicago— has become a sort of good-luck charm in Jeff Nichols’ films.

This is a coming-of-age movie; Ellis and Nick are 14-year-olds. But it is also a parable about the nature of love and marriage, ethics and moral growth and change. Some original music was contributed by David Wingo ,but the key theme song for “Mud” is “Help Me, Rhonda” by the Beach Boys (“Help me, Rhonda. Help me get her out of my heart.”) As Nick tells Ellis, early on, “That’s his doin’ it song,” meaning that “Help Me, Rhonda” signals that his Uncle Galen (Michael Shannon)—who is raising the young boy who never knew either of his parents— has a woman in the bedroom and Ellis should steer clear. Galen later explains to the two teenage boys experiencing normal adolescent lust, “Help Me, Rhonda is about a guy who wanted to get a piece to get over a girl who dumped on him.”
This crass explanation of the Beach Boys classic tune ties in with the emerging feelings that Ellis has for an older classmate (May Pearl, played by Bonnie Sturdivant).

It also intersects with the marital problems Ellis’ parents are experiencing, and augments the romantic love story of Mud and Juniper. Ellis’ dad comments, “Marriage just don’t work for some people.” Concerning the undying romantic love that Ellis wants so badly to believe exists, his father (Ray McKinnon) says, “I don’t know about that any more.” His dad also tells him, “You can’t trust love, Ellis. If you’re not careful, it’ll up and run out on you. Women are tough. They’ll set you up for things.”

That thought is echoed by Sam Shepard’s character, Tom Blankenship, who, speaking of Juniper, says, “The trouble is, she don’t care about nobody but herself.” Tom thinks that Mud’s only chance is “to cut her loose,” saying, “Those two are set for failure.”

Despite these bleak views of eternal romance, Nick and Ellis are deeply involved in trying to help Mud reunite with Juniper, even though he is marooned on an island, hiding out there after killing a man in Texas who mistreated Juniper. They are helping Mud rebuild a cabin cruiser improbably stuck in a tree, left there by flooding. The boat not only has to be brought down from the tree, it needs a new motor and Mud also needs food and supplies while he struggles to restore it. Then—Mud tells the boys—he will collect Juniper with their help, and they will ride off in the sunset to live happily ever after. Unless the eight ruthless men collected by the shooting victim’s father (Joe Don Baker) and his brother, James (Michael Abbott, Jr.) find Mud first.
Along the way in this interesting and original film, we learn from Mud himself that, “I don’t traffic in the truth too often.” But we see that Mud can be a good guy. He risks his life to save Ellis after Ellis is bitten by a cottonmouth snake. And his true love for Juniper shines through all his actions, past, present and future—-if he has one; Juniper, too, seems to truly love Mud, but seems too weak to endure what running away with Mud (again) will mean in her life.

When Ellis tells Mud, “My dad says that you can’t count on women lovin’ you. You can’t trust ‘em,” Mud has a different point of view. The boy, deeply affected by the spectacle of watching his parents’ marriage disintegrate around him and also experiencing their riverboat home being dismantled (“It’s the law!”) has angrily confronted his father regarding the looming divorce, “You gave up on her, just like she gave up on you.” But, by film’s end, there is a feeling that the reality of the future will not be as bleak as Ellis initially feared.

Juniper’s inability to stay strong and committed to her true love (she doesn’t show up when the young boys attempt to collect her for the romantic rendezvous and subsequent planned get-away) is paralleled by Ellis’ father. Mary Lee says to her husband, “You’re a man who doesn’t have the strength to support his own life.” Could the same not be said of Juniper? The idea of a couple being set for failure and needing to cut someone you love loose isn’t confined to just Juniper and Mud in this intricately plotted tale, which Director Nichols also wrote.

The moral and ethical issues emerge when Ellis’ father finds out Ellis and Nick have stolen a boat motor from a salvage yard to deliver to Mud on the island. In an angry confrontation with his son, while Mary Ann looking on, he says of his wife, “She’s raising her a snake just like herself” Ellis, too, is angry at himself. He’s angry that Mud is using him and encouraging him to violate his family’s moral code. He yells at Mud, “You made me a thief!” But, it is Mud who tells him, (while relating the dramatic story of how he avenged Juniper’s brutal mistreatment at the hands of another man), “There are things you can get away with in this world and there are things you can’t.” Of one’s work ethic in life, in general, Ellis’ dad tells him, “I work you hard ‘cause life is work.”
In 1974, Jon Voight made a movie, “Conrack,” which reveled in the river. The recent “Beasts of the Southern Wild” also captured the special people who spend life in close proximity to the Mighty Mississippi. In this film, life on the river, (photographed beautifully by cinematographer Adam Stone), is a metaphor for a life of less nobility, a different kind of existence. Ellis exclaims at one point, “I ain’t no townie.”

There is far more going on in this film than just pretty shots of the river; contrast the true beauty of nature with Piggly Wiggly stores on Plastic Menu Avenue and signs along it reading “God Bless America.” Natural beauty is treated reverentially, even when it is dangerous. The townsfolk and life there seems trite, corrupt, less pure, by comparison.

If you’re thinking of taking in a truly worthy film that will hold your attention and provide much enjoyment and thought-provoking material, from a writer-director (Jeff Nichols) bound for greatness, the best closing line to sum up the experience of watching “Mud,” (with its expert ensemble cast), is from the film itself: “Enjoy this river. Enjoy it while you can.”

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