Directed by Jeff Nichols
2 hours 10 minutes
From Lionsgate and
Joe Don Baker
I was impressed with this film because it told a good story. We can glitz and glam up a film with special effects and photography and a great musical score, but at the heart of film-making there is the written word. This is a good story... compelling, honest, straight-forward. It is about friendship and kinship and hardship. It is part coming-of-age, which I love, and about the south which you know gets my juices flowing. I am also drawn to films that have kids in major roles, especially when they are in peril. Mud is going the indie route and the only pity in that is it won't be seen by wider audiences.
Two 14-year old boys, Ellis and Neckbone, come across Mud, a man on the lam (he killed a guy who was hurting Mud's on-again, off-again girlfriend) and the boys both shield him from those looking for him and help him reconnect with the girlfriend.
Mud is hiding on a small island in the Mississippi and the teenagers live in ramshackle houseboats on the river. I am reminded of an upscale Beasts of the Southern Wild. For a spell I also found myself thinking of Tom and Huck and their lives on the same river, getting into mischief. These boys get into mischief as well but all of it is structured around getting supplies and equipment for Mud to get a boat out of a tree (yes, you read that right... likely the result of a storm) and onto the water where he hopes to make his way to freedom with the galpal. Funny how things often don't work out as we plan.
All the characters lead troubled or troubling lives and the screenplay by director Nichols splendidly lays out all the circumstances and choices and courses we take to overcome or wallow in them. The boys embrace Mud and the state he's in, going so far as to steal for him. Most of their coming-of-age issues deal with their home lives and are handled with great spirit. I was a sucker for a great love story even as a child. I was quite taken with people I knew whom I decided loved each other very much. That is one of the reasons I was so taken with young Ellis because much of what he does comes out of the fact that he wants to see Mud and his girlfriend reunited. He concludes in his young mind that any two people who love so much deserve a chance.
The real stars are the two boys, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, and they acquit themselves quite handily. We care about their characters, root for them. They have a lot of freedom in their lives with respect to time and transportation (a small motor fishing boat and a motorbike at their disposal) and are involved in adult situations which promotes some quick growing up. Sheridan is given a little more to do and I hope his future is as bright as it looks now.
|Ty Sheridan (foreground) and Jacob Lofland|
Matthew McConaughey is on a roll career-wise. Sticking close to his southern roots for Killer Joe and The Paper Boy allowed him to turn in some electrifying performances which I have detailed in this blog. He was arguably the best thing about Magic Mike as well. He brings an empathy to Mud, who is technically not a very nice man but is one via his scenes with the boys. He should get some sort of recognition for being the dirtiest, nastiest-looking leading character in some time.
I have never jumped on the Reese Witherspoon bandwagon because I think her choices of roles are beyond my understanding if she intends to be a serious actress but I must say that in the small but important role as the trampy, disloyal girlfriend she knocked it out of the park.
As a neighbor of the boys who has long known and been skeptical of Mud, Sam Shepard brings his usual quiet authority to what turns out to be a rather heroic role. It's always nice to see Sam. The supporting cast is also impressive. Ray McKinnon as Ellis' father has some great scenes and Paul Sparks and Joe Don Baker are wonderfully menacing as the bounty hunting relatives of the man Mud killed.
I am normally leery and often speak unfavorably of new directors because they rarely seem to have the expertise to pull off serious films. I am certainly not speaking of those in the horror genre because just about anyone can handle knives dripping with blood and screaming teenage girls. No, I mean serious films. And when that new director also writes the screenplay, I am even more apprehensive because it seems too much for a fledgling to get right. But not so this time. I heartily applaud Jeff Nichols. This is only his second directorial/writing assignment for a theatrical film. I saw the first one, Take Shelter, and quite admired it. And now Mud. Guess I'm adding Nichols to my keep-an-eye-on list.
Mud is a dramatic story, dealing with some heavy issues, but one that is also infused with a great sense of fun. It's got my recommendation.
Favorite Movie #12