It wasn’t that long ago that I would have given Matthew McConaughey the same chance of receiving an Oscar nomination as the Supreme Leader of North Korea receiving a Nobel Peace Prize. Times haven’t changed on the Korean Peninsula, but they certainly have in Hollywood.
Serving as a powerful lesson to other actors locked in mindless films such as Katherine Heigl, Kate Hudson and Jennifer Aniston, Mr. McConaughey has decided to challenge himself in an artistic fashion previously adopted by Bradley Cooper. In the process he has transformed himself into a serious actor who has left regrettable performances like those seen in “Fool’s Gold” (2008) and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” (2009) in his cinematic rearview mirror.
He makes Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” a vibrant film on multiple levels. Mr. McConaughey plays a character simply known as Mud, a fugitive wanted for murder hiding on a small island on the Mississippi River. He is discovered by two 14-year-old boys who are looking to claim an old boat nestled high in the trees as a result of a prior flood. The boys, played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, are the center of a plot that is as irresistibly charming as it is unnerving.
Mud is a loveably confused man who previously killed a wealthy Texan for abusing his ex-girlfriend. That girlfriend, Juniper, played by Reese Witherspoon in a role that mirrors Mud’s desire to think small, is a low-life who unfortunately loves Mud along with any other available man who will buy her a cheap drink.
As the delicious plot unfolds, it actually focuses on the confusing nature of love itself. Sam Shepard plays Tom, Mud’s disgusted father, who lives in isolation on a houseboat. He has a questionable past as an assassin in the CIA, and Tom could help his son if he could overcome years of family revulsion.
Michael Shannon plays Galen, the young Lofland character’s caring uncle who plumbs the river’s depths for clams. Joe Don Baker plays the father of Mud’s victim, who leads a group of bounty hunters with one goal, namely to kill him. Revenge and love become twisted in a knot as Mud’s fate hangs in the wind.
The heart of this film deals with a coming of age story as Ellis (Sheridan) wrestles with his parents’ decision to divorce. Confused over his own affection for his first girlfriend, he seeks to help Mud reunite with Juniper regardless of the consequences. After all, Mud loves her, so isn’t that enough?
Mr. McConaughey gives a rich and endearing performance as the ever hopeful Mud. He is as good as he was as the defense lawyer in “The Lincoln Lawyer” (2011); as the prosecuting attorney in “Bernie” (2011); a reporter trying to save a man on death row in “The Paperboy” (2012); the owner of a male strip club in “Magic Mike” (2012); and as a psychotic hitman in the NC-17 rated “Killer Joe” (2011). I feel like we are watching a young Gregory Peck or Gary Cooper, so time will tell.
While “No” was nominated for an Oscar last year in the Best Foreign Film category, it is a movie that needs to be seen in this country. Focusing on the 1988 plebiscite in Chile which was to determine the fate of General Augusto Pinochet, their longstanding dictator, it serves as an uncomfortable mirror into Washington in 2013.
Pinochet’s excesses finally led a galvanized world community to demand a “si” or “no” vote by the Chilean electorate to decide if Pinochet stayed in power. The process allowed both parties 15 minutes on television every day during the 27 days before the election to argue their cause. As crazy as it sounds, Gael García Bernal plays an ad executive who helps the “no” campaign gain traction by emphasizing seemingly simplistic concepts of hope, fun and happiness. At that moment the movie captures the human heart.
But what is truly chilling about the film is its focus on Pinochet’s campaign in pursuit of a “yes” vote. Careful to not use the phrase “everyone,” the campaign actively attempted to mislead the Chilean people by saying that the private sector under Pinochet would see that “anyone” could become wealthy. They further sought to exploit the opposition by claiming that the opposition simply sought a larger government to provide handouts to the poor who were simply too lazy to work. Sound familiar?
What is going on in the United States today is not that different than what was happening in Chile in 1988. Millions of Americans are unemployed, yet we’re supposed to trust the private sector to right the ship. We don’t care that the infamous sequester cut funds for U.S. attorneys, federal public defenders and Head Start programs, but God forbid if we should let the comfortable people in our society have to wait a few extra minutes in an airport.
We’ll suspend the protections of the Fifth Amendment to aggressively question a bombing suspect for his role in killing three people during the Boston Marathon, but we can’t take a similar role when it comes to the Second Amendment, though thousands of people are being brutally killed around this country every year. We foolishly invade Iraq on false information that costs this country billions of dollars in taxpayers’ money, yet we won’t spend that same amount in this country where we could help restore our infrastructure while employing vast numbers of Americans.
We are told to say “no” to tax increases unless you want to finance luxury boxes at Lucas Oil Stadium. While pious Christian politicians in Washington attack food stamps and other programs designed to help the poor, they conveniently forget Jesus Christ’s words, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
“No” is a film on how the people of Chile had the strength to save their own government. In the process, they saved their own country. There is a lesson to be learned here if we intend on doing the same thing.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.