Damn this film is good, so good it has a timeless feeling. Mud is an adventure-drama, with a coming-of-age story at the centre. Matthew McConaughey plays the title character Mud, an edgy desperado in need of some help.
Teenagers Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) find Mud hiding on an island in Mississipi. He says he is waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). He isn’t lying; he just leaves out the part he’s a fugitive, on the run from the authorities and bounty hunters.
Mud is Jeff Nichol’s third movie and it’s a testament to his script that it seems like it was an adaptation of a book. I’m not sure why, but the story has a literary feeling. It’s set a over few days and we follow the two boys’ on their little adventure. Ellis and Neckbone agree to help Mud while he stays on the island. As a reward for their efforts, he promises to give them the speedboat he’s been living inside. Mud wants to reunite with Juniper, so the boys carry out schemes and pass on information to Juniper, who is holed up in a motel.
Despite the title, the movie isn’t so much about Mud as it is about the boys. This is a story of young people who must face adult situations and grow-up fast. Ellis and Neckbone view helping Mud as an escape from their lives on the mainland. There’s a fairytale, mythic aspect to the film, but you can sense there’s something bigger going on.
I liked the mix of sentiment and danger, and how its charm disguises a darker undercurrent. It parallels the way Mud misleads the boys into thinking he’s some kind of river-spirit hero. Mud has done bad things, but the boys, Ellis in particular, are blinded by his ‘lone wolf’ image.
Apart from when the film veers off to inspect Mud’s past, the drama is very immediate. It’s in the here and now, shown through the eyes of two boys growing into men. There are a handful of minor subplots, which are less interesting, but they serve to fuel Ellis’ development. He has an idealistic view of life and relationships. It’s just a case of childhood naivety, but when Mud’s plans start to crumble, Ellis gets hit with the harsh reality.
Although Mud is a small independent film, it feels like it was made on a grand scale. It’s full of stunning visuals and memorable performances. It should please viewers that have a thirst for heart and drama. No real judgement is made on the characters or their decisions, as there’s no reason for the film to make that sort of verdict. But the boys do learn something in the end. You might too.
Directed and written by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Michael Shannon
Distributor: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions
Run Time: 130 minutes.