Mud * * * *
Director: Jeff Nichols.
Screenplay: Jeff Nichols.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Joe Don Baker, Paul Sparks, Bonnie Sturdivant.
After such brave and exemplary displays in “Killer Joe” and “The Paperboy“, Matthew McConaughey has completely turned his failing career around. He seems to have left his rom-com days behind him and cemented his reputation as a serious leading actor. “Mud“; the long awaited follow up of the award winning “Take Shelter” from promising director Jeff Nichols, is even further proof of McConaughey’s commitment and keen eye for an intriguing character.
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are a couple of kids who roam the backwaters of their local area. They soon stumble upon Mud (McConaughey), a known fugitive hiding on an island. They are drawn to him and his story of reuniting with his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and decide to help him escape from the authorities and a gang of bounty hunters, to meet with her again.
Following on from his debut “Shotgun Stories“, Nichols takes us back to his home state of Arkansas for another slice-of-life and coming-of-age yarn. It has been compared to the likes of “Stand By Me” and more accurately, the works of novelist Mark Twain and his “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in our young protagonist’s exploration of the colourful people and places along the Mississippi River. These comparisons are entirely understandable but Nichols doesn’t merely tread old water, he delivers a competent mood piece with three dimensional characters that are entirely fleshed out and convincing. The two young leads, in newcomer Jacob Lofland and especially Tye Sheridan (“The Tree of Life“) are absolutely outstanding in their natural deliveries of impressionable teenagers and there is solid support from the likes of Ray McKinnon, Sam Shepard and an understated Reese Witherspoon. Regular Nichols collaborator, Michael Shannon is really the only one who doesn’t get much to work with, but that was due to time constraints as he had already committed to “Man of Steel“. The real draw here, though, is a snarling and haunted McConaughey. It’s yet another performance of a very high caliber as he perfectly embodies a man with emotional strength yet an almost crippling vulnerability and naivety. This multilayered attention is afforded to the rest of the film’s script and almost all of it’s characters have their differing approaches and struggles with relationships and the environment they inhabit. Nichols operates at a leisurely pace and is in no rush to tell his story. This is entirely suited for his material with the only major issues being that it, ever so slightly, overstays it’s welcome and descends into formula in the final third. That being said, the characters and the environment (captured by cinematographer Adam Stone) are so rich and involving that it’s flaws are easy to forgive.
What first strikes you as an engaging adventure tale soon becomes an emotional and intelligent fable that ruminates on love and loss. It massages both the heart and the head and confirms that Jeff Nichols and Matthew McConaughey are playing at the top of their game right now. We’ll be seeing much more of young Sheridan in the near future too.