When it comes to experiences that bind us together, there are few things more universal than heartbreak. Everyone remembers the first time it happened—the earth-shattering sadness and the way that painful fire burnt inside you for the very first time. You look back on that initial taste of love and remember the sweetness, the overwhelming, almost suffocating sensation that came from finally understanding what it truly means to need another human being. But in the natural progression of life, eventually that love ends or fades, and although it hurts like hell, you survive. Wounds mend, you meet someone else, and, in time, you’re able to start the cycle all over again. With his third film, writer and director Jeff Nichols explores this "cycle of first love," told through a fourteen-year-old boy experiencing his first heartbreak, inside the larger tale of a man stuck in first love’s loop—never having been able to move beyond his first love. "It’s kind of like Lolita in a less gross way," says Nichols, whose new film Mud may look one way on the surface, but is moved along by a powerful and emotional undercurrent.
It took him almost an entire career of Wedding Planner(s) and Failure(s) to Launch, but Matthew McConaughey has finally found his place in cinema. The recent string of roles he has taken on make us wonder why he didn’t venture down this path in the first place? Perhaps it was an evovling sense of purpose as an actor or something that’s come with age, but in the last year he’s really seemed to hit his stride. With last year’s Killer Joe, The Paperboy, and even Magic Mike, McConaughey has come into his own—his own being a seedy, somewhat disturbed, southern (not so) gentleman on the fringe of the law. And with Jeff Nichols’s Mud, the follow-up to 2011’s paranoia-inducing Take Shelter, it appears McMonaughey is proving again that he’s not someone to take lightly.
Mud tells the story of a two teenage boys who encounter a mysterious fugitive and form a pat to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trailer and to reunite him with his true love. Take Shelter was well-recieved by critics, garnering Nichols the attention he deserved from a film that was neither pure drama nor thriller, but a psychological study of a descent into madness that played on a mix of subtly and sheer power from its leading man, Michael Shannon—who also makes an appearance in Mud. In their Cannes review, The Film Stage claimed that Mud, "imperfect as it may be…marks a step forward for Nichols as a filmmaker capable of making big entertainment that retains some intelligence and a palpable message as well.” And if you aren’t sold already, Sam Shepard is also in the film and, let’s face it, that’s reason enough.
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The Ides of March If there’s one clear message in George Clooney’s The Ides of March, it’s this: You can lie, you can cheat, hell, you can be a terrible person—just don’t sleep with the intern. Adapted from Beau Willimon’s Broadway play Farragut North, the political thriller tells the story of Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), the ambitious right-hand man of Governor Michael Morris (Clooney), as he tries to get Morris into the White House. Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood), an intern wise beyond her years, manages to be the hairline crack in the glass that eventually shatters, ruining Morris’ shot at victory.
It’s a tale of hubris set in a world where integrity and loyalty should be everything but mean nothing against the forces of money and power. Reminiscent of such ’70s thrillers as The Parallax View, the film paints a dark portrait of contemporary politics with help from its outstanding supporting cast, which includes Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Gamatti, and Marisa Tomei. Scene after scene, the revelations fall like so many punches to the gut. With a directorial resume that includes critical successes like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck, Clooney might just have a career to fall back on in case the sexiest man alive thing doesn’t work out. —Hillary Weston
Martha Mary May Marlene Martha Marcy May Marlene will be remembered for its lead actor Elizabeth Olsen’s staggering breakout performance. As a refugee from a religious cult who tries to cleanse herself of the mental toxins injected by the group’s charismatic leader (a reliably unnerving John Hawkes), she doesn’t blanket the film, the way, say, Charlize Theron’s Oscar-winning turn in Monster did. Instead, we get quiet scenes that simmer with anticipation as an uneasy danger flickers just outside the frame. When tensions do flare, they erupt. The story cycles between Martha’s current life at her sister’s (Sarah Paulson) idyllic home in lakefront Connecticut, where she halfheartedly tries to readjust to normal society, and flashbacks to her time spent in the Manson-like cult, all the while instilling in the audience the unsettling sense that these worlds are about to violently collide. Whether or not they do is inconsequential to director Sean Durkin, who isn’t concerned with satisfying audience expectations—only upending them. —Ben Barna
Margin Call First off, it should be noted that viewers not currently in the employ of Goldman Sachs will understand neither the film’s titular trading term, nor the central tension in J.C. Chandor’s directorial debut to which it refers. It’s a testament to the stellar performances by the financial thriller’s male leads—Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Simon Baker, Stanley Tucci, Zachary Quinto, and, surprisingly, Penn Badgley—that we’re, well, invested at all. The film takes place over the course of 24 disastrous hours at a prominent investment bank in ruin. Careers are alternately destroyed and born while the firm struggles to sell its shares to the highest bidder—and, later, any bidder. As a slighted business executive, Demi Moore reminds us why she once cornered the market on fear-inducing, ball-busting women on the verge. Whereas Ben Affleck’s The Company Men, an equally harrowing Credit Crunch drama, focused on the fallout of those who’d been laid off, this one takes an uncompromising look at the lengths we’re willing to go to stay out of the red. Business as usual, this is not. —Nick Haramis
Take Shelter The right cast makes all the difference in Jeff Nichols’ sophomore film, Take Shelter. The story follows Curtis LaForche (Oscar nominee Michael Shannon), a family man with a loving wife (Jessica Chastain) and child who starts experiencing a series of apocalyptic visions that plague his waking life. The film unfolds at a novel’s pace, slapping us to attention in the opening sequence before slowly building toward its inevitable climax. Neither pure drama nor thriller, Take Shelter is a psychological study of a man descending into madness, tormented by his own irrational fears. Through a mix of subtlety and sheer power, Shannon’s brilliant performance keeps audiences rapt with questions of what’s real, what’s fantasy, and what fear can do to the mind. —HW
Blackthorn In Blackthorn, Spanish screenwriter and director Mateo Gil takes us on the journey of an unlikely friendship in 1927 Bolivia. After being presumed dead by his pursuers back in 1908, Butch Cassidy (yes, that Butch Cassidy) adopts the alias of James Blackthorn (played by Sam Shepard). Weary of life on the run, he prepares to head back to the States to see his family after a near 30-year absence. An encounter with another criminal on the lam, Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega), a ruffian who has absconded with loot from a mine, leads him on one final adventure. All the best western tropes are here: horse chases, gunfights, buxom women, and men who smell of sweat and a saloon. The good guys are a little bit bad, the bad guys are a little bit good, and fate is in the hands of whoever’s quickest to draw. —Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez