Film Review – Mud
I don’t know if Matthew McConaughey’s agent took an especially artistic blow to the head or if one too many TBS airings of Failure To Launch set him down this new path, but if you’re reading this, sir, I’d like to buy you a Coke. The reinvention of McConaughey’s career this last year or so has truly been something to behold. From his turn as a deceivingly perceptive attorney in Bernie to the harrowing and darkly hilarious title character in Killer Joe, McConaughey wants you to know he’s still got chops. Floundering for far too long in the pits of rom-com hell, his career rejuvenation is so inspiring I’m even willing to forgive him for The Paperboy. We all make mistakes.
Jeff Nichols’sMud cleverly casts the heartthrob as, well, Mud. Mud finds himself on the run from the law after a violent altercation spurred by his perhaps unwise devotion to Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), the childhood sweetheart he never managed to let go. He finds temporary peace on a secluded island off the Southern coast until he’s discovered by two young boys intent on claiming the land as their own. Ellis (Tye Sheridan, The Tree of Life), the more sympathetic of the two, takes an immediate shine to Mud after learning his plight. You see, Ellis has just found love himself (or a 13-year-old’s version of it) and is eager to help reunite the two in any way he can. This proves dangerous once we learn some shady characters outside of the law are also hot on Mud’s trail, seeking revenge for the aforementioned altercation.
Perhaps unbelievably, a boat is found lodged high atop a tree on the island. That this goes unexplained throughout the film (“Hell of a thing, isn’t it?”) is a nice surrealistic touch in this otherwise grounded tale. While the boat initially provides a means of shelter for Mud, he soon enlists the boys to help to dislodge and repair it in order to escape undetected. We are given brief glimpses of each boy’s family life as they scramble to round up the needed materials, and we quickly begin to understand their need for such distraction. Ellis’s parents (Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson) are on a rocky path all their own, while Neckbone (newcomer Jacob Lofland) lives with his well-meaning but aloof uncle (Michael Shannon). Mud’s rough exterior and no-bullshit approach to life becomes all the more appealing to them, and almost seems to keep them from floating adrift themselves. So to speak.
Nichols’s previous film, 2011’s Take Shelter, is a moody piece of work that also happened to be my favorite movie of that year. My anticipation going into Mud, then, was perhaps unfairly high. These are two different beasts, though, and Mud proves itself to be a lovely coming-of-age tale with a lighthearted approach almost entirely absent from Take Shelter. That said, it does tend to get a little long in the tooth, and the shoot-out towards the end smacks of obligation. Furthermore, Nichols’s depiction of women in the movie isn’t the most flattering. We’re none of us saints, but the film’s almost sadistically cruel in its showcasing of relationships.
Shannon, utterly fantastic in Take Shelter, provides what amounts to little more than a cameo here, but is unforgettable regardless. Witherspoon does what she can with her limited screen time and manages to garner our sympathy despite her occasionally despicable behavior. The two young actors at the center of the film are remarkable and McConaughey is pitch perfect, further continuing his rise to born-again stardom. I’ll cheers to that.
Final Grade: B