MOVIE REVIEW | Mud (2013)

A few of years ago, a bloke named Jeff Nichols wrote and directed his second feature, Take Shelter.  It starred the always impressive Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, before she hit really big with things like The Help and Zero Dark Thirty.  It seems like ever since then, I’ve been hearing critics bang on about how amazing Take Shelter is.  When I finally gave it a look, I thought it was OK, a great acting showcase for Shannon, but it didn’t really lift my skirt.  But it stuck with me in a certain way that when the same sort of praise started being bandied about for Nichols’ follow up, Mud, I felt like I shouldn’t be so slow in checking it out as I was with Take Shelter.   And I’m glad I did, because Mud is great.  Really, really great.

Tye Sheridan plays Ellis, a moody teen living in Arkansas.  Jacob Lofland plays his best friend, the awesomely named Neckbone.  They spend their days exploring the banks of the Mississippi, and one day set out to find a boat, high up in the branches of a tree on a secluded island.  Left there after a flood, the boys decide that if they find it, it’s theirs.  The only problem, when the do find it, it’s already been claimed by Matthew’s McConaughey’s titular Mud, a fugitive.

Straight away, McConaughey and the boys form a kind of mutual respect and he says they can have the boat once he leaves.  He’s on the run for killing a man over a woman, and he’s waiting for a rendezvous with that woman, played with surprising white trash authenticity by Reece Witherspoon.  Only problem is, the man he killed was the son of a criminal kingpin.  So the small town is flooded by henchmen in search of Mud and revenge.

There’s a side story about the disintegration of Ellis’ family and how this means he will soon have to give up the houseboat life of a fisherman he shares, and loves, with his father.  These sequences show Nichols at his absolute best.  Ellis’ life seems dirty, hard and in no way enviable.  Yet somehow, Nichols makes you totally believe how desperate the boy is to keep it.

Thanks to movies like Killer Joe and Bernie, McConaughey is in the middle of a career renaissance.  He’s no longer the good looking dude in cheesy rom-coms, he seems to have become a lot pickier about his roles and it’s paying off.  But as fantastic as he is in Mud, McConaughey is totally overshadowed by the two boys.  Sheridan has a kind of brooding intensity that has to be rare in actor his age, while Lofland’s Neckbone is brilliant whenever he’s on screen.  He has a certain blend of innocence and naivety about him, while also coming off as someone who’s already been there, seen it all and has no time for your bullshit.

Maybe watching Mud so much sooner after its release meant my expectations hadn’t been too blown out by years of positive reviews.  Or maybe it’s just a better movie than Take Shelter.  Either way, I really enjoyed it.  And it’s also made me want to track down Nichol’s debut, Shotgun Stories.

Directed By – Jeff Nichols
Written By – Jeff Nichols

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