Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Loflan, Reece Witherspoon, Sam Shepherd, Sarah Paulson
Written by: Jeff Nichols
Running Time: 130 mins
Release date: 10th May 2013
The reinvention of Matthew McConaughey continues. After years of stuck playing romantic leads in painful rom coms with the likes of Kate Hudson and Sarah Jessica Parker, McConaughey found his feet again in The Lincoln Lawyer and since then hasn’t put a foot wrong, with roles in Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Bernie and The Paperboy. He puts his foot definitely in the right place here for Jeff Nichols’ ‘impressive slice of Americana.
Ellis and Neckbone are two teenage boys who discover a boat up in a tree on a deserted island. Excited about their discovery, they claim it as their own, only to find that it has an occupant, a mysterious man called Mud. The boys strike up a deal with the man, help him fix the boat and bring food and they they will be rewarded. Mud tells them of why he is there, to meet with a girl he loves, Juniper. Ellis, whose own family is falling apart, finds a mission will take his mind off his own troubles by bringing the two together again. what he doesn’t know is that Mud is a wanted man and that it is not only the police who wants him.
Nichols’ follow-up to Take Shelter is a much crisper and more absorbing piece of cinema. Where Take Shelter was a respectable piece of cinema, it did drag its heels. Here you are captivated by the tale, that is very reminiscent to Whistle Down The Wind, children finding an almost Messiah-like figure and protecting him. The difference being that here the motivations of Ellis is stronger. A boy whose life is on the verge of collapse, who is having to cope with his own hormones while desperate to make his new-found friend, who he trusts implicitly, be with the love of his life. It’s not a film that rushes, in fact, everything about this film is almost leisurely but it’s one of the film’s strengths. Having sat through so many films recently where you are almost giddy from the speed of the editing, it’s almost refreshing to watch scenes that are built up slowly, without continuous cutting from one shot to another.
It also has a touch of 70s Americana cinema to it. Films like Badlands, The Last Picture Show and the recently re-released Scarecrow sprung to mind while watching it. The heat of the Southern settings and the coolness of the water is felt throughout and I found myself getting incredibly thirsty. The script has an air of seventies too. Never having to stoop to really foul-language, there doesn’t seem to be any misplacing here. Every element is there for a reason and it never seems to be any contrivances in the story. The plot developments are layered on, leading to a satisfactory conclusion.
The film’s best hand, however, lies in the performances. All of them are solid and impressive and they all seem to compliment each other; from Reece Witherspoon’s sexy Southern belle who is at the heart of Mud’s affections, to Sam Shepherd’s father figure to Mud as well as his guardian Angel. Even Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon as Ellis’ parents, are far more than just incidental characters and play just as an important part to the proceedings. If there is a mis footing it is Michael Shannon’s underwritten Uncle to Neckbone. The only character that doesn’t contribute to the flow.
McConaughey’s Mud is a triumph. A man full of sensitivity and yet the mysterious nature of his being are skillfully crafted and proof once again that given a strong enough character, he can deliver as good a performance as any other actor. It is a joy to watch him grow from the ashes of the trash he was appearing in to a highly respected and regarded actor.
It is the young performers, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Loflan who are the film’s major triumphs. Both young men are extraordinarily believable. They come across as best friends, they come across as regular kids and they come across as two young adults dealing with the pressures of a world they don’t fully understand. They are incredible and the film would be a lesser place without them.
It looks beautiful, with some stunning cinematography and it plays like it was based on an American classic. It’s a shame it has been released during the mass bombardment of blockbusters as it will certainly get lost among the robots, spacemen and superheroes. If you are looking for an intelligent, well produced, lovingly scripted and superbly performed piece of cinema, then you have come to the right place. Mud is all those things and more. Terrific stuff.