Mud, Mud, glorious Mud. Director Jeff Nichols off the back of his dark and disturbing debut feature Take Shelter is fast developing an impressive reputation, which is only enhanced with this latest offering. Mud is a beautiful and touching story of love in all its strange, unconventional and wonderful forms, of an evolving landscape, changing way of life, and of the exciting, terrifying and wildly confusing adventure that is growing up.
Our title character Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is a disheveled loner discovered by two 14 year old explorer tykes, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). A confessed fugitive, Mud seems at first like a peculiar homeless man, but he is strong, sinewy and practical. He is clearly dangerous while also a hopeless romantic, fuelled by his passion for a lost love.
Discovered in a rather magical boat held high in the limbs of a tree on a deserted island in a river delta, the boys swiftly form a pact to help the man to evade the authorities (and sinister bounty hunters) and reunite with his childhood sweetheart, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).
What follows is a stunning study of relationships, big and small, lasting and fleeting, between father and son, uncle and nephew, husband and wife, best friends, lovers, with the girl in the year above and the bewildering man on the island. Intertwined unrelentingly is the picture’s landscape of vast southern rivers, which define the way of life, the people and their past, present and futures, all of which are threatened by the encroaching Arkansas town.
This was yet another chapter in the Matthew McConaughey renaissance. After a career thought lost to romcoms (and not even good ones), films such as Killer Joe, Magic Mike and now Mud have proven that with age and a good agent, there is hope for anyone. A strong and restrained performance, it is perfectly pitched. Tye Sheridan, fresh out of The Tree of Life is beginning to build and exciting portfolio and is one to watch. His flawless, enchanting and completely believable portrayal of naïve hope and unfashionable romanticism, combined with Jacob Lofland’s roguish and resourceful Neckbone filter the film through a 14 year old’s inquisitive eyes, so that even when we veer into hyperbole in the final act we are wont to go along with it.
Most obviously the film has a strong Huck Finn vibe, and even a hint of Dickens’s Pip and Magwitch. But it has a watery aesthetic and sincere child’s perspective that invokes the more recent, impeccable Beasts of the Southern Wild. A few ‘hick-town’ movie tropes and a slightly eye-rolling finale are easily overlooked with the wonderful performances and warm-hearted intentions. The only wonder is why there were just 3 of us in the screening!