Mud is a moving exploration into the nature of manhood, with superb performances, striking location and engrossing story creating a mesmerising and heartfelt coming of age drama.
With his third film, Jeff Nichols has proven to be the best filmmaker mainstream audiences have yet to experience. It’s their loss. As writer and director, Nichols has crafted films that are rich in character, captivating in atmosphere, and feature a strong thematic examination of manhood that is startlingly intimate.
Where Nichol’s first feature Shotgun Stories concerned itself with a bloody family feud, and his sophomore effort Take Shelter featured psychological horror elements in its story of a family man’s struggle with his troubled mind, Mud is the coming of age tale of Ellis (Tye Sheridan) a 14 year old whose adventurous curiosity leads him to Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a fugitive hiding on an isolated isle where he makes plans to reunite with his long time love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Dealing with the pain of watching his parents (Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson) separate, Ellis and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) agree to help Mud reunite with Juniper and keep him hidden from those with bad intentions.
With crooked teeth, dirty skin and nappy hair, McConaughey plays Mud with the right blend of charismatic outlaw and lovelorn nomad, the Texan native continuing his hot streak of stellar performances with this one of his very best.
Excellent too is young Tye Sheridan, who despite his young age exudes a strong screen presence and even stronger sense of soul in his portrayal of a character whose whole world is falling apart while taking that emotionally perilous journey from boyhood to manhood.
Parental divorce, first love and the brutality of adulthood are the coming of age hurdles Nichols places in front of his young lead character, as is the friendship formed with the scraggly looking man on the run who has a taste for the superstitious and hopelessly romantic outlook on life.
Especially interesting are the relationships these characters have with the women in their lives, Nichols opting for an almost Old Testament view of treachery always being afoot when man’s trust is placed in the opposite sex, such are the bitter and false illusions a broken heart creates.
Shot throughout the Arkansas Delta – from the long stretches of road across crop fields, to the spacious towns, and especially the muddy banks of the Mississippi River – the sense of place in Mud is palpable. A native of Arkansas, Nichols does a great job in dispensing with any southern stereotypes a lesser filmmaker would have rested upon, with Mud joining Winter’s Bone as films that provide an authentic experience of southern living from a blue collar perspective.
Authentic. That is the best way to describe the emotions and environment Mud projects. Nicholas is a filmmaker of great talent and poise, may he release many more films as good as this.