Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols.
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, and Michael Shannon.
Two teenage boys encounter a fugitive and form a pact to help him evade the bounty hunters on his trail and to reunite him with his true love.
A boat is discovered up a tree on an island off the Mississippi river by two young boys. How the boat got there is never explained, it is just there. It is a miracle. So begins Mud, the third film from director Jeff Nichols whose last feature Take Shelter was one of the best and most talked about films of 2011. Mud may have less to discuss but has more to sit back and admire, and is arguably the better film.
Mud is a near-perfect film. The acting from all involved, from the two young boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland) to Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon to Matthew McConaughey’s best performance in his post-Rom-Com winning streak, everyone becomes their character and any Hollywood sheen doesn’t make it onto the screen. Nichols’ lens choice and control of his picture is exemplary with steady, controlled, and economic shots which allow the story to unfold unhurriedly and slowly like the Deep South setting it takes place in, but when the story calls for a sudden change of pace in the final act Nichols handles this effortlessly, too. The film often use natural light or the ‘magic hour’ which at times evokes a Terrence Malick aesthetic but Nichols also has his own vision, he is not a second-rate hack with access to a camera as is so often the case in cinema today.
Mud is thematic throughout its 130 minute running time. Father and son relationships and questions surrounding what defines a man and masculinity are key here, as are adolescent notions of love and relationships and the reality behind words masquerading as love. The film is told from the perspective of Ellis (Sheridan) who is in nearly every scene and credit goes to the young actor, also so good in The Tree of Life, as child actors can often be ineffectual and detrimental to a film’s success if miscast. Sheridan seems to understand the themes of this film like an actor far beyond his years and his relationship with Mud (the titular character) is utterly convincing from the moment they meet on the island to the heartbreaking conclusion.
This film has no faults; it has doesn’t have any needless scenes, it doesn’t pander to audience expectations or spoon-feed exposition with large chunks of dialogue to tie up mindless nonsense, and every sentence is important. The film connects with its audience in ways which many films with 100 times the budget fail to do; Nichols puts you in the Deep South and this is where you stay until the credits roll. It is essential viewing for 2013 and for any year, and anyone interested in film making should see this film wherever they can.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★