Instantaneously, Mud brought me back to days past when my friend and I would explore the woods near my house. The woods were by no means deep, located closely to a golf-course and an apartment complex, but they were all that we had and we loved them. We’d be on the hunt for golf balls, and would often stumble upon such “treasures” as rubber tires, potpourri, cigarette butts, beer bottles, and broken glass. Upon finding them, we’d make up stories on how they got there, and often, if we had a sleepover, listen for teenagers, bums, or whoever may be out there in the middle of the night leaving such objects.
Unfortunately, our closeted adventures and theories never amounted to anything but spur-of-the-moment daydreams. If only we could’ve had an experience like the characters in Jeff Nichols’ Mud, a fantastic drama centered on growing up in the deep south. And yet, such an oversimplification may lead potential viewers to think it’s a story they’ve seen many times before, when really, the film’s multiple angles allow it to be looked at and enjoyed in several different ways. This is, simply put, one of the best, most wonderful films of the year.
The story narrows in on the likes of Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), two fourteen year olds hungering for adventure, girls, and excitement in their lives. Ellis lives with his miserable father and his unsatisfied mother, while Neckbone resides with his womanizing uncle. They discover on an island located distally from their home that there is a large boat stuck in a tree, housing food and pornographic magazines showing signs that someone lives there. That man, they find, is Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive housing a checkered past and now making due with little in the middle of nowhere, attempting to reconnect with his love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).
The boys decide to help Mud reconnect with her and reside out in the middle of nowhere, until it becomes apparent that because the entire town is plastered with his pictures that he needs to get out. What unfolds is a beautiful tale of love, coming-of-age hardships, and family issues that result in a wholesome, gritty exercise that provides for numerous emotions to take fold.
One questions the motive of the boys to continue to help Mud, even after discovering what horror he committed. Because Ellis’s parents are enduring hellish circumstances and losing love in one another, his commitment to helping Mud find Juniper seems stronger than Neckbone’s because he doesn’t want to see a couple who should be together remain distant. This is one of the many lenses you can see Mud through. The film is such a visceral, multi-layered experience that each person has the ability to find something different or subtly unique that lies within the story’s seemingly direct roots.
Even after Nichols enthralling Take Shelter, which headlined Michael Shannon who is present in a small role here, he continues to have a growing fascination with skylines and the rural environment that his characters reside in. He seems to take a deep satisfaction in the presence of sleepy towns, beautiful, limitless skies, glowing sunlight, quickly-forming clouds, and the dustiness and wholesomeness of the south’s environment. Scarcely has such a simple coming-of-age film achieved the beauty and majestic look that Mud effortlessly concocts.
Although it is not a tense, pulse-racing epic, the film still plays something like the kinds of “fugitive-on-the-loose” pictures you’d see from the early seventies. It still has that questionable uncertainty in its premise that allows it to be worthily thought of as the kind of film where the mystifying fugitive turns out to be something a bit more than a loser, but the way Nichols presents Mud is anything but the sappy sob-story we sort of expect.
And finally, Mud can be simply seen as a rural coming-of-age story, not far off from the likes of Rob Reiner’s impeccable Stand By Me, which, too, centered on young kids become more unified because of a dangerous adventure. There’s nothing wrong with looking at Mud simplistically, as a drama centered around early-teenagers, because even when you do that, you still get a wonderful, more-than-complete package with performances that are enriching and an adventure that’s unbelievable. Matthew McConaughey, again, gives an astonishingly capable performance after coming off of the likes of the beautifully quirky Bernie, the unfairly-ostracized Magic Mike, and the haunting, yet enigmatic Killer Joe. It’s safe to say that McConaughey has made enough money so that he can shy away from the pathetic romantic-comedy or dull actioneer in favor of riskier, more reclusive projects that test him as an actor. Teaming up with Jeff Nichols was certainly the right bet, as this is closest to the most perfect movie experiences I’ve had all year.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Joe Don Baker, and Michael Shannon. Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Reviewed by Steve Pulaski
Read more of Steve’s Reviews at: http://stevethemovieman.proboards.com