Starring Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Michael Shannon, Sarah Paulson
It’s no surprise that Jeff Nichols’ latest (and only third) film, Mud, was the best thing to show at this year’s SXSW film festival. Nichols burst onto the scene two years ago with the critically acclaimed and unforgettable Take Shelter. He now returns with a script he wrote during the same summer as Take Shelter, and it provides another thrilling vehicle for McConaughey to continue sharpening his skill and diversity on. Mud, like Nichols’ previous work, has great music and an original score, a unique setting with unfamiliar characters, and powerful performances from a very well chosen cast (minus Witherspoon).
14-year-old best friends Ellis (Sheridan) and Neck Bone (Jacob Lofland) have been planning to take their boat out across the river to an island where a boat is stuck high up in a tree. They find that someone has been living in this boat and they meet this scraggly looking man with a chipped tooth and sun burned skin who calls himself Mud (McConaughey). He asks the boys to bring him food, which they do out of curiosity, but Ellis, who is in a fierce battle with puberty and hormones, not to mention trouble at home with his parents separating, finds comfort in this stranger, who appears to be wanted by the law.
Mud only adds to the brilliant work McConaughey started doing in 2012.
Nicholas’ writing and directing style is like the more serious side of Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants), always taking the audience on a journey they haven’t quite experienced before. Both directors always get the best performances out of their carefully cast, seasoned actors. Mud only adds to the brilliant work McConaughey started doing in 2012 and will very likely land him critical and awards acclaim in the independent circuit this year. His character Mud is an unlikely hero to a boy who needs one in the worst way. McConaughey is nearly overshadowed by Sheridan (The Tree of Life), another Texan actor who delivers another emotional performance.
Mud doesn’t quite leave the lasting or unsettling feeling I enjoyed so much with Take Shelter, but it’s an emotional journey worth investing in with a real message for families. Nichols’ setting of poor riverside living in Arkansas really casts a mood over the film that supports the characters and their actions. Shepard also deserves praise for one of his best performances in years. Both Ray McKinnon and Michael Shannon return from Take Shelter to lend even more depth to the film.
A beautiful example of expert storytelling.