The mid-life reinvention of Matthew McConaughey has been nothing short of amazing. Keep in mind, this is a guy who – as recently as two years ago – was best known for his stunning six-pack abs. And while McConaughey is still primarily known for his good looks, he also seems to have come to the realization that you can’t stay young forever. At the age of 43, the A-list actor has decided to branch out, immersing himself in roles that require a lot more spit than they do polish. He’s an AIDS victim. He’s a survivalist. He’s a contract killer with an acid tongue. He’s got snake tattoos and jagged teeth and he’s shedding nearly 60 pounds. This is the new Matthew McConaughey, and it’s the one on fairly remarkable display throughout the movie Mud.
Mud is a southern drama about southern people doing southern things in the southern backwoods of Arkansas. At its core, Mud is a story about rich and poor and the blurred lines that separate good from evil. But it’s also a story about trust and friendship and the extreme, sometimes-even-misguided lengths people go to in order to protect the ones they love. It’s an age-old tale with Dickensian roots, but it’s told in an original way here. And while Mud falls just short of greatness (The film could’ve done without the last 15 minutes entirely), it’s the closest thing we’ve seen to a spot-on motion picture about the deep south since 2010’s Winter’s Bone.
McConaughey does an outstanding job as a soft-spoken fugitive on the lam and Michael Shannon nearly steals the show in a minor role he gives his all to. On top of which, the film is anchored by a charming pair of child actors who more than hold their own. Mud‘s got drama and violence and unrequited love, all of which is served up with juicy subplots in between. It’s one of the best films to come out so far in 2013, and it’s easily the best of what’s coming out this weekend.
(Mud arrives in limited release today with a national rollout to follow.)