I can see now why Mud has such high ratings. It holds a score of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. I would be hard-pressed to think of anything to remotely dislike. With a plethora of symbolism, lyricism, and dynamism, and being highly thought provoking throughout, it’s a great feat for it not to become convoluted. An ample amount of age-old morale’s and questions are brought up, but never leave the viewer feeling they’ve seen this before. Mud flawlessly embodies everything that’s good about independent films. Certain smaller movies I’d only recommend to cinephile’s, but this situation is different. It is a must see for anyone. Defiantly 2013’s best so far.
Fourteen-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his best friend, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), head out to a small island on the Mississippi River where they discover a boat suspended up in a tree. Upon investigating inside, it’s apparent someone has been living there. That person is Mud (Matthew McConaughey). He asks them to bring him food. At first they’re hesitant, but Ellis convinces Neckbone that it’s the right thing to do. During subsequent visits, the boys find out Mud killed a man to save the woman he loves, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), whom Mud is expecting to run away with when the boat he’s living in can be put back in the water – he can’t do this alone. When bounty hunters get involved, Ellis and Neckbone face the consequences of aiding an escaped murder.
I have seen a few coming-of-age type stories already this year, it’s common for comedy or drama independent movies. Most of them work for a simple reason – richly detailed characters. This case is no different. Sure more stuff was also working than most, but the characters hold it together. The story is really about Ellis, but Mud is extremely prominent, not to mention compelling. You know he’s mysteries, and has something of a troubled past. Nothing distantly indicates who he is when we are first introduced. Yes, Mud seems peaceful enough right away, but while watching I was always thinking. Is he good, bad, crazy, in the right? Loved Mud, and was happy with his conclusion.
Ellis gets into situations and acts the way I would expect any kid to act at fourteen. This pertains to the subplots, dealing with home life, his parent’s, etcetera. His relationship with Mud was developed well. Ellis is a true romantic, and yearns to believe that men will do whatever it takes to protect their love (a big reason why he chooses to help Mud), and almost becomes a father figure of sorts because his own dad seems to be giving up on his mother. Senior admits he’s essentially failed them, and every scene with father and son together is touching. Its clear Senior cares for his son, but he always tells it as it is. Neckbone leans towards being a comic relief. Beside laughter, I could connect with him with little information. Overall, the script was stupendous. So many underlining themes take place in and around these characters, like what love is, death, and youth.
Part of the joy in watching Mud is the performances. There’s no weak link to be found; all are outstanding. Matthew McConaughey continues to impress as of late by choosing to take part in low-budget drams that emphasize how great of an actor he truly is. I much rather see him in things like this, Lincoln Lawyer, and Killer Joe than an ultimate charmer in a rom-com. McConaughey is at his very best. Does such a good job at subtlety playing on different emotions so you never know what to think. Tye Sheridan has only two movies under his belt, but is off to a fantastic start. That did help him here, actually. He is the kind of younger actor that doesn’t scream “actor, which makes him feel natural and grounded. What’s great about Reese Witherspoon is she pulls off a much sadder and complex role; complete opposite of her usual. I was disappoint Michael Shannon was on screen so little. Every scene he’s in is nailed. Jacob Lofland, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon, and Sam Shepard contribute amazing work as well.
Mud is the latest film from writer/director Jeff Nicholas, whose previous work includes Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter (one of the best movies of 2011). Nicholas clearly has a soft spot for his home state, Arkansas. The area is depicted tenderly and creates a universe that feels authentic. It greatly helped the subplots fit in seamlessly. Scenery is effortlessly and eloquently absorbs the natural and elemental beauty of Arkansas, the surrounding terrain, and vast skyline. As a quick note, the soundtrack is done by David Wingo, who did the score for Take Shelter. A tranquil atmosphere is created fitting the mood anytime it plays.
At first the story stars out slow paced building everything up. There are some humorous moments too, a first for Nicholas. It’s deliberate on how it unfolds. A darker path is taken as it progress. I was completely immersed right away and never got out of that state; still on my mind. Conventional elements pop up, but does present itself in a unique way. Nicholas uses similar locations with similar people with each film, but manages to be different. Mud tells a fabulous simple, yet complex story with a phenomenal screenplay, what’s not to like? I’ll be looking out for what Nicholas does next.