Mud

Mud photo starrating-3stars.jpgMatthew McConaughey’s name is ‘Mud’ in writer/director Jeff Nichols’ musing on southern life along the Mississippi River. Ellis and Neckbone are a couple of Arkansas teenagers who happen upon the drifter in an exiled status. Covered in a mixture of soft earth and water, Mud is aptly named. He’s a cursed man living a solitary existence, but he’s also a charismatic individual full of stories to tell. Ellis is intrigued with the strange plight of this homeless man and they embark upon an agreement whereby he swaps the promise of his boat in return for their help.

Mud’s biggest selling point are the captivating performances. Matthew McConaughey can act. He’s been on a winning streak ever since 2011’s The Lincoln Lawyer. This role is up to the same high standard as every portrayal he’s given in the last couple years. He’s matched by two teens, the skeptical Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) and idealistic Ellis (Tye Sheridan). This is only Sheridan’s second credit (he played the youngest of the 3 boys in The Tree of Life). The authenticity of his work makes him a memorable actor. In the midst of Ellis’ interactions with Mud, we come to discover the tension between the teen’s  parents at home is escalating. Ostensibly it’s “something to believe in” that causes Ellis to be so taken with his circumstance. Mud’s desire to reunite with his girl Juniper also becomes a mission of sorts for the young hopeless romantic. That a young boy would take on the problems of a stranger in the name of true love is not particularly believable, but it is curious at least. Juniper, on the other hand, is so nondescript it’s inexplicable why the role attracted a major star. Incidentally, Reese Witherspoon adds nothing to the underwritten character.

Mud is a nice little slice of Americana and it’s got some beautifully written dialogue showcasing McConaughey and the two boys. It’s not obvious initially, but turns out the movie’s main purpose are the exchanges that Mud has with the boys. The boys are articulate and McConaughey is charming, as usual. I was captivated for the first half. But as things progress, the pervading sluggishness becomes tedious when contrasted with the script’s flirtation with thriller elements that never really transpire into anything significant. It’s an adolescent coming of age story with the stereotypical thrust into adulthood. The derivative ingredients ultimately prove to be too insubstantial to support a film that runs over two hours. As we learn more about Mud and the boys, the less intellectually satisfying things become and we realize it’s the conversations themselves that are supposed to captivate us, not some revelatory event. The seemingly unending discourse makes the genre action climax all the more puzzling. It’s almost as if the screenwriter felt compelled to punctuate a mood piece of southern charm and flawed characters with something lively.

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19 Responses to “Mud”

  1. GaryLee828 Says:

    “Boy, I ain’t no bum. You call me a bum again, and I’m gonna teach you a lesson about respect your daddy never did.”

    LOL. I loved that line!

    Reese said she took the role in spite of it being such a small role b/c she loved the script and wanted to be a part of the film; even though she didn’t have a lot of screen time, her character was a big part of the story, so I think it was important to make sure you had a seasoned actress to pull the role off, in which she did. Her character was quite complex, and although not a lot of time, her character displayed a pretty wide array of emotions. I think it’s one of her better performances in years, and I wouldn’t be shocked if she were to get an Oscar nod here for supporting.

    I think everyone turned in strong performances, and of course it’s always great to see Michael Shannon, even in a small role.

    I am so glad McConaughey is returning to making quality films as he used to when he first broke out on the big screen in “A Time To Kill” back in 1996; around that time I thought he was the next huge star, and then a few short years later he started making bad film choice after bad film choice, probably starting with “Ed” – although I haven’t seen “Ed” so can’t comment if it’s bad, but I think it may have been that role he fell into Hollywood mediocrity – and then he rolled downhill; glad to see he took a break and regrouped himself after “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”. I think he checked himself into career rehab after that dud. lol.

    • In fact, I don’t even think Juniper needed to appear on screen at all. She was more of an idea than an actual person with a fully developed personality. It’s not entirely Reese’s fault. Her part was very poorly written. I thought she was slumming it in this part. I couldn’t figure out what attracted her to this role. She was a non-entity.

      Yeah Matthew McConaughey has been selecting great roles for the last few years now. I, like you, appreciate the re-commitment to his acting career.

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        Reese said she loved the script, and I think just wanted to be a part of it.

  2. Good review Mark. The cast goes to town on their characters, and never let you forget that each and every one is capable of keeping this movie in check. However, Nichols is also there to help out as well.

  3. From your review, it sounds like you’d give this a bit higher rating. I’m very curious to see this one as I couldn’t go to the film fest screening 3 weeks ago due to a thundersnow! McConaughey seems to be on a roll these days, his performance is what I’m most curious about in this film.

    • The interaction between the 3 leads was honest and real. I enjoyed that. But the story teases with more creative developments. Then it ends in the most clichéd way possible. It started with more promise.

  4. Nice review. You know my thoughts and I really enjoyed the picture. It isn’t flawless but proves that Nichols is one of the best directors working today.

    • There’s so many great directors working today: Wes Anderson, Ang Lee, Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Steven Spielberg. The list goes on. I enjoyed Take Shelter but I’ll wait until I’ve seen more than 2 movies before I anoint Jeff Nichols with that title.

  5. I love your review, Mark, particularly your last line.

    I was surprised how much love this one was getting. A wide release, said Box Office Mojo. 98%, said Rotten Tomatoes. That’s something you don’t get very often, do you? Especially in May?

    Anyway, I went to visit my 8th grade social studies teacher at my sister’s open house the other night; we REALLY butted heads last year, but we shared a strong love for movies. She said she went to see this with her husband and he, a high school literature teacher, found it very similar to Huck Finn. So now I have some homework (and I’m curious if the next Oscar season would knock my grades for not completing it hahah): to watch Mud and read Huck Finn. 🙂

    • Yeah 98% is almost unheard of with a movie that includes over 100 reviews. Although my 3/5 rating would still be considered part of the “fresh” set, I wouldn’t consider this the best film of the year as the reviews would indicate.

      P.S. I’ve seen that Huck Finn comparison in half a dozen reviews. According to Colin Covert of Star Tribune:

      “Though the film has a spirit all its own, comparisons to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are inevitable. Nichols even has a mysterious key character (played by Sam Shepard) named Tom Blankenship, after Twain’s real-life model for Huck Finn.”

      • When I see a 98%, I don’t question why it would be so great; I just assume it’s great for a reason, that I need to see it, and that I’d best remain surprised. Ergo, yours was the first review I’d read. 🙂

  6. Good review! I have just seen it and I am not really sure where to put it. I will sleep on it before I write my summary of it. The performances are definitely superb!

  7. I think I might have to see this. It sounds like a movie that I would probably like. I like the idea of the hopeless romantic.

    • I felt that way about the little boy’s motivations but that was more my interpretation. His “hopeless romantic” point of view isn’t obvious.

  8. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’m starting to think I need to even if it becomes a bit tedious. It’s disappointing to hear that the ending doesn’t quite match the tone of the rest of the movie though. I would agree that McConaughey has been on a winning streak since Lincoln Lawyer. I’ve always thought he was underrated, so I like that he’s finally getting credit for his acting chops instead of just being eye candy all the time. I’ve never been a big fan of Reese Witherspoon on the other hand, which makes me unsurprised that she doesn’t add much to this film.

    • I don’t think it’s Reese’s fault. The character was just a non-entity to begin with. She was playing “the girlfriend.” Not a role I’d associate with an Oscar winning actress.

  9. I want a cool name like “Neckbone.”

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