While there are movies whose strength comes from the originality and the way it brings power to its narrative, there are some whose beauty lies in its simplicity and the way the story is told. Such a film is writer/director Jeff Nichols’ (Take Shelter) “Mud”. A film that is a ’coming of age’ tale at its core, it becomes something totally different in the way it is told. It is still a slice of real life, and the harsh realities that it sometimes brings, where good men can be the bad guys and where the bad guys can be perceived as the good guys. Oh, it is a story about ‘love’ and just how sometimes it is not enough, because, well, life demands more from us.
Two boys and close friends, Ellis and Neckbone (played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) who live in Arkansas. Ellis’ folks are still living (Sarah Paulson and Ray McKinnon) and they always have arguments about their small business, while Neckbone has been raised by his uncle (Michael Shannon) who dives for clams for a living. One day, the two boys come across a drifter at a small river island that they will come to call Mud (Matthew McConaughey). This man and also a fugitive, will bring the two into his tangled web of crimes of passion, bounty hunters, lost love and a perfect woman named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).
There is something just so immersive with the way the script flowed in “Mud”. The characters were interesting, the premise definitely had something to say, and the plot is developed pretty well. As I’ve said, “Mud” is more than a ‘coming of age’ story but it is a story about love and just how sometimes it isn’t enough, and yet, there may be hope for it to be enough. The way Nichols told his story was through Ellis, and how his eyes become open to certain harsh truths, and just how someone can choose to just put himself “out there” for the sake of whom they love. It was fascinating to see Ellis develop from a quiet boy and the more he spent time with Mud, he seems to gain more confidence, and able to take chances for something he believes in. It was easy to see the possible parallels between Mud and Ellis, both are willing to throw themselves under the bus for what they believe in. Ellis may be the central core of the screenplay, but his development starts with his friendship with Neckbone, his interactions with Mud and just how he deals with his parents’ issues. Ellis and Mud are both optimistic figures at heart, while one learns from the other, the other learns what really matters.
The film was marvelously acted by Sheridan, Lofland and McConaughey. The three form a unique chemistry that while Ellis was developed in the script, the more Mud became an interesting figure; their story were closely linked. Mud may be a good man, caught in a real bad situation, and his love for Juniper makes him courageous and a little bit of a teddy bear despite outward appearances. There is some interdependency between Ellis and Neckbone; they cope with their environment together, and there is an unspoken loyalty between them. There is a lot of sentimentality and sensitivity in the manner they interact that gives them believability. The three may have the purest intentions, and they have that much to hold on to despite their struggles.
Nichols may have some pessimism laying around the script, but he was quick to express that it also pays to take chances. He expresses such things with his characters. Ellis’ parents may be a product of hardship and miscommunication, and life had bared down on them. They may love each other, but they can no longer live with each other. The supporting cast was excellent as Nichols gets the maximum mileage from them despite their limited screen time. Reese Witherspoon comes out with an amazing performance despite her limited time on-screen. She may be a woman caught in a harsh reality, that despite her feelings, she often gets stuck with the wrong or bad choices. People just do what they think is best for them, good or ill, they stick to it. Nichols does express this concept through the Juniper, Senior and Mary Lee characters. Sam Shepard plays Tom Blankenship who may have become a cynical figure in the script or as Ellis pointed out, a ‘tired old man’. There is also the ugly face of revenge in the Carver character played by Paul Sparks. Nichols was able to present the consequences and the realities of each action or reaction.
With the cinematography, the film becomes an authentic tale of Southern fried life experience. There is something that felt real genuine as the viewer is taken into the lives of Ellis and Neckbone. The film was shot in such a way that feels very simplistic, and yet the camera work exudes the mood and the emotions behind each scene. Close ups were utilized for maximum effect, and the landscape itself becomes a character in the film. Now I hope I am not giving the wrong impression, while "Mud" is a dramatic film at its core, the film also has a few violent encounters that were exciting. The last act is the accumulation of its build ups as the main characters were forced to face the consequences of their actions.
Nichols’ “Mud” is an excellent film that tells a piece of real life. It is a great follow-up to “Take Shelter” and Nichols’ seemed to be able to bring all the good things out of his screenplay, while creating genuine characters that speak well for his stories. It also helps when he has a passion for his vision that he is able to make his performers somehow feel the same. The ending may feel a little random, but I could easily forgive such a minor flaw. Highly Recommended. [4 Out of 5 Stars]
MUD Coming of age stories have always been a favorite of mine if they are done right. "Stand By Me" comes right to mind as a classic coming of age story. Well this Matthew McConaughey lead film is right up there as one of those done right. Now I have always liked Matt and never really understood the hate that people place on him. I will admit that I have liked some of his romantic comedies. I went to my Aunt's … more
Two fourteen-year old boys befriend a stranger (Matthew McConaughey) who has been living on their secret island in the Mississippi River. His name is "Mud," he's wanted for murder, and he's being followed by some very dangerous men. This movie is a real gem; it's smart, honest, and edge-of-your-seat exciting. It portrays the boys' hardscrabble life in their backwater town with uncompromising violence and grit and is also filled with decency, understanding, … more
This was a great movie full of great scenery and cinematography that gives this Arkansas based film a feeling of being real. The characters here seem like real people and it is because of that that you actually care about these people. Now this is not the greatest movie ever made, at least to me, but it is a really good one that I would recommend. this is a really well made drama that has made my list of best I have seen this year.