Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, Michael Shannon
There are always those movies you intend to see in theaters, but somehow they get passed you. Mud came out in early 2013 to critical acclaim, and I am just now getting around to it. Ellis (Sheridan) and Neckbone (Lofland) boat out to a small little island to get a closer look at this mysterious boat that is stuck in a tree. The sight of bread and beans quickly tell them that someone is living it. They soon meet Mud (McConaughey) who tries to claim the boat is his. He corrects them by saying he is either a hobo or homeless, but not a bum. The boys have a fascination with him as they go to the island the next day to bring him food. Mud tells the boys he plans on only being there a short time as he is waiting for his old girlfriend Juniper (Witherspoon).
Ellis comes face to face with the reality about love and marriage when he learns his parents are headed toward divorce which means they could be losing the houseboat they live on. When he and his mom (Paulson) drive into town they are stopped by the police who are looking for hitchhikers and other fugitives. The picture of the wanted fugitive belongs to Mud. Despite his criminal past, the boys still seem to have a trust with him by wanting to help him out.
In only his third movie, Nichols proves to be a sharp storyteller. He captures that naïve state teens go through when they are around fourteen years old without it feeling like some dopey teen flick you would see on the Disney channel. Neckbone and Ellis bring out these feelings on how it always seems to be so disappointing when you start to understand the hard truths about life that you tend to take for granted. Whenever I see these types of coming of age movies about young boys, they always bring me back to Stand By Me, which is my all-time favorite movie. The characters of Ellis and Neckbone really remind me of the Stand By Me boys. The layers of the story really start to unfold through the eyes of the two boys. The audience only finds out the truth about Mud and the men after him as the boys start to discover it themselves. Nichols still retains an honesty with them without ever painting them out to be stupid or troubled teenagers.
The look and feel of the film reminds me of Winter’s Bone and Beasts of the Southern Wild where the location and nature surrounding our characters play such a vital part of the story. Nichols and cinematographer Adam Stone really capture the rough and coarse atmosphere that goes with living along the river in a small and poor town.
Nichols has a very solid cast. Sheridan and Lofland are fantastic young up-and-coming actors. This is the second film for Sheridan after his work in Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life. Lofland is making his big screen debut. Matthew McConaughey has had a string of strong performances after Bernie, Magic Mike, The Paperboy, and Killer Joe. He continues to pick strong material that really shows off his strengths. While there is very much a McConaughey feel to many of his characters, Mud is a rich and dimensional role for him where he provides a sympathetic and humane quality to him despite his criminal past. You really do see his character through the eyes of the boys and not the men that are out to get him. I LOVE seeing the legendary Sam Shepard in these paternal type supporting roles. There is always so much depth and meat behind him no matter how small the role happens to be. I need to keep an eye on Jeff Nichols and go back to his previous films Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, both starring Michael Shannon. Movies like Mud are great examples of largely unknown filmmakers and storytellers who deserve more attention.
RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)