Cinema reviews: Mud, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, A Hijacking and more

Somewhere in the dreams of Mud creator Jeff Nichols, Huckleberry Finn met Aguirre, Wrath of God. The writer-director who made that swoony, overpraised piece of southern psycho-Gothic Take Shelter – Michael Shannon seeing God and doom in the skies – transcends, indeed aces it, by the simple expedient of making a same-yet-different story for kids. This lean and captivating adventure about two boys who befriend a wanted man (Matthew McConaughey) named Mud, a runaway criminal hiding on an island and sleeping in a tree-nesting boat (very Herzog), is short on psychobabble and metaphysics, long on thrills, surreal tensions and a sly, sidewinding excitement.

The starting point is a zinger. What is this lean, buff, jittery, glittery-eyed ex-killer (so supposed) doing on a jungle-like Mississippi islet, waiting, he claims, for the girl he loves so they can escape together? She soon materialises as Reese Witherspoon, trailed into town by bounty hunters hoping she’ll lead them to McConaughey. Other weirdos with vested interests include Joe Don Baker as a religious-minded avenger (“We gonna pray for the death of the man who killed mah son”) and Sam Shepard as an airgun-toting coot first met firing at water snakes from the roof of his bayou shack.

The boys, winningly played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, resemble all proper kids in the nation of Huck Finn. They run around getting in trouble; soon they are neck-deep in everything – mud, snakes, other people’s crises. They become the ex-con’s provisioners, news-bringers, assistant boat repairers. Maybe they can end by running away with him? This is America (goes the movie’s message): no one wants to grow up; everyone clings to romance. It is the last best hope for the innocents in all of us. Adults are just kids who pretend, sometimes, that they have outpaced the dreams of childhood.

The screen explodes with all the colours of the universe in Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s in 3D, so expect stuff to fly past you, plus stirring music, plus kitsch-rich Trekkie dialogue that might have come from supernova’d telly scripts of long ago. The young Kirk from the previous prequel – Chris Pine now fitting snugly into William Shatner’s template features – is in nonstop peril once more. In one scene he actually, or apparently, dies, before cryogenics comes to his aid.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain boasts whirly black hair, pale cheeks and theatrical posturings: a Kean as Khan, a Garrick for the galaxies. Thawed out from hyper-freeze, this man will take over the cosmos unless the Enterprise (still limping from repairs) can patch together a battle victory. JJ Abrams is today’s go-to director for space adventures. Now asset-sorting the Star Wars franchise for Disney, his talents seem already a little inhuman. Here is a borderline-nonsensical script – from the men who scripted Cowboys & Aliens – and he gives it a symphonic bravura.

Something for grown-ups this week? In Belgian film-maker Joachim Lafosse’s Our Children (apter native title À perdre la raison), a mum cannot cope with the dual burden of her own depression-prone adulthood and her brood’s needy innocence. Lafosse picked up a newspaper one day, he says, and read one of those stories about a mother inexplicably murdering her tots.

By this film’s close the act isn’t inexplicable at all. Just harrowing and appalling. Émilie Dequenne (once Cannes Best Actress winner for Rosetta) has a raw, piteous intensity. The husband (Tahar Rahim of A Prophet) is a weak, puppyish type, bullied by his father. The live-in dad-in-law won’t leave the nest he has helped to feather. Niels Arestrup (A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) plays him imperiously, the white hair all but saying “I am your Lear, try to expel me.” As the walls close in we believe this young wife might end up gasping for air. We even believe she might yearn to take the kids, not just herself, to a better place.

All’s fair in love and jihad ... Trying to tackle Islam and Islamism empathetically, Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, adapted from Mohsin Hamid’s bestselling novel, proves what we all knew or suspected. Good art isn’t about ideological bookkeeping. The script’s attempts at double-entry peacemaking kill, by slow degrees of PC torpor, this story set in “Pakistan’s new militant academia”. Here we are notionally torn between liberal political journalist Liev Schreiber and radicalised young professor Riz Ahmed, though at times (fuzzing such focus as there is) both move in and out of each other’s perspectives and thought-ambits. The story is told in flashback – more alienation and etiolated engagement – and Kate Hudson wanders through unconvincingly as a radical installation artist. NA

Calmly made but ultimately lacerating, A Hijacking, about a Danish cargo vessel overwhelmed by Somali pirates in the remote Indian Ocean, is full of amazingly unaffected and straightforward performances. As two cultures clash on board, back in Copenhagen the unflorid CEO of the cargo company takes over negotiations with the pirates, a game of cat and mouse previously seen in the Russell Crowe vehicle Proof of Life. Some scenes really stand out: pirates and Danes singing “you shall have a fishy on a little dishy” round a cigarette-piled cabin table; and the catching of a stunningly neon-green mahi-mahi from the deep ocean (they must have waited hours to get this sequence). Although always low-key, the drama here is secretly seething, and upsetting. It’s about personalities under fire – only done in this doggedly reasonable, tamped-down, frothless Danish way.

Village at the End of the World
, a documentary about a fishing village in Greenland and its 59 Inuit inhabitants and 100 huskies, is startlingly informative – I can’t think of ever before seeing a narwhal (that most mythic looking of whales) dragged on to a beach in the midnight sun and skinned, its tusk admired by toothless village pensioners. The mind boggles at the thought of how it was here pre-electricity and motor boats, although elderly villagers don’t exactly recoil from the memory of sputtering blubber lamps.

Meanwhile, the village’s one 16-year-old – a sweetheart called Lars – studies New York City on Google Maps and marvels at the thought. He’s an indescribably tender, guileless character but never treated by the film-makers as a subject for comedy. You feel the intensity of his longing to leave, and his fear of what lies beyond this ice-blasted cove. A scene with the whole village innocently playing musical chairs during a celebration will knock your eyes and heart out.

Vehicle 19
, a South African co-production about a desperate ex-con finding himself in a hostage situation involving a pantomime villain chief of police, is set entirely in a car. Unfortunately its star, Paul Walker, the blond jock of the Fast and Furious franchise, is the one actor in the world, bar perhaps the hopelessly expressionless Channing Tatum (known round my house as Potatum Channing), that one least wants to be stuck in a car with. Every line that comes from Walker’s stiff mouth sounds like a failed aphorism. AQ

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