August 7, 2013


Jeff Nichols, 2013

Two boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), venture on to a nearby island with their motor boat. They are looking for a boat that has been rumored to be suspended in the trees after past flooding. They find it, but soon discover that a homeless man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) has been living in it. They befriend Mud and soon get pulled into his rather complicated life story.

It's a 130 minute drama, rich in story, that combines the southern grit of Nichols' past film Shotgun Stories with a youthful dynamic reminiscent of Stand By Me. At times you are seeing things through the eyes of children, with the curiosity of Super 8 combined with the grit of The Sandlot. Other times you are pulled into adult-oriented drama, where Nichols once again examines the concept of revenge and the cost in seeking it. McConaughey delivers what's probably the most fitting role of his career. It's hard to picture anyone else in the Mud role. He possesses that southern charisma, a friendly twang that doesn't threaten Ellis or Neckbone. His character is almost immediately sympathetic, where he's quick to consume a can of beans that Ellis provides for him. He quickly becomes a father figure to the two boys, who are desperate for the attention with Neckbone never having met his father and Ellis' distant from his cold disciplinarian father. The film is well acted on all fronts. It's nice to see Nichols using Michael Shannon again, if even in a more limited role as Neckbone's uncle Galen. Sarah Paulson is convincing as Ellis' downtrodden mother, sick of living her destitute life on the river in the houseboat and eager for a change of scenery.

There's some notable shots of the Arkansas landscape. As the camera rides in the back of the pickup truck with Ellis, you get the view of the blue-collar town with shots of the aged ice cream stand or the run down Piggly Wiggly. Constant shots of mother nature at work, critters crawling up rocky cliffs and water moccasins wandering through the murky waters of the Mississippi River. Nichols gives the film time to really let the story breathe, and let's his characters develop. By the final act of the film you are well invested in them and some of the final moments of the film are quite gripping.

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