Matthew McConaughey is Mud, a fugitive drifter hiding on a small island in the Mississippi River. He’s on the run and living peacefully all by his lonesome, that is until he is found out by two, young boys (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland). They don’t cause him much trouble as they seem to be more lost in wonder about this dude and eventually assist him in evading capture and reuniting with his beloved girlfriend (Reese Witherspoon).
So far, for writer/director Jeff Nichols; life has been pretty good. Not only did his first flick (Shotgun Stories) have “the artsie crowd” jumping in their tight jeans, but his second one (Take Shelter) got his name out to a bigger audience that one more over, just by the sure-fire of Michael Shannon being the man. But we all know that when something is too good to be true, it usually is and that’s what I felt like going into this movie. It wasn’t that I doubted Nichols’ skills as a writer or director, it just seemed like such an obvious and predictable story where boys will be boys, and we’ll leave it at that. That’s what I thought, but what I got was so different.
Sorry for ever doubting ya in the first place, Jeffrey.
Movies that feature kids at the fore-front really have to win me over with more than just showing them being funny and insightful by cursing. They have to give me something more, and that’s exactly what this flick did. Instead of reaching for the conventions, and giving me a story that I’ve seen done a hundred times over, Nichols takes that story, and loosens-up it’s hinges a bit. It sort of like Nichols knew the type of genre-movie he was making, and decided to give it a little taste of his own. Not as dirty as I may make it sound, but it sure is fun and entertaining to watch.
Fun and entertaining in the way that the movie starts off quick and continues to go that way as well. There are moments when the flick decides to get real heavy on us and teach us some lessens, but not anything that really hit us in the face like a fish. Nichols keeps every character and their moments grounded in reality where we see these people who for the types of people they are. Each one, in one way or another, has a relationship with somebody else that you’d never knew about before, but the film brings up and shows you how that developed over time. It’s so interesting to see what you can do with character-development, just through simple and lean conversations. Some of it’s dramatic, some of it’s subtle, and some of it’s obvious, but most of all: it was interesting to see and made me care more for each of these characters as the stakes got higher and the tension began to build.
And once that tension does blow off, it does it in a way that isn’t everything you’d expect from a movie like this. Without jumping down the throats of all of you fine people with spoilers out the wahzoo, I’ll just keep it real simple in the way that the flick does end with some shooting and whatnot, but not like you’d expect. It happens for a reason and not just because Nichols got bored and needed to light up some fire works. Once again, it’s another way of showing how certain people use violence to their advantage and don’t seem to care about the after-effects. Just what needs to happen, and how it can be pulled off. Now, where have I heard that before!?!?
But it is meant to be said that by the end of the movie, things did start to get a tad bit conventional. Almost too much, dare I say it. It isn’t that I didn’t hate the flick for ending the way it did, but going to where I could sort of tell everything that was going to happen, and for what sole reason it was as well. Nichols did everything right leading up to the end, but the actual end itself is a tad of a bummer, for the sake that you know where it’s going to go. Again, I don’t wholly mind when a film goes that way, but it did sort of feel like a cheat, coming from Mr. Jeff Nichols here. He had me going though. He really did.
Though, I can’t be too hard on Nichols, because the guy has assembled a fine cast of characters here and that is definitely meant to be praised more than discouraged. Matthew McConaughey has been on a role as of late, and it doesn’t seem to show any chances of slowing down, by any means. His role as Mud is great for him to play because he gets the chance to, once again, tool around with the idea that we don’t know everything about this guy, what he’s done in his past, why he’s doing it, and if everything he’s saying is all truthful or a tall-tale. The whole time I kept wondering what was up with this guy, and by the end: I still didn’t quite know. But that’s the whole beauty about McConaughey’s performance in how he is able to mess with us, even long after the movie. We get general ideas about the guy where we see he’s a slick, cool, and kind fellow that does things for the people he loves, but a bit too harshly? Maybe? The answers to those questions are left for you and you alone to decide. Get going!
Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland play the two boys that find Mud on the island, and remind me of two kids that were picked right out of a Stephen King novel. They curse, spit, swallow, and cause havoc like all kids usually do, but there’s more of a sweetness to them that makes you want to hang out with them, as well as wish the best for them through this wild adventure. Especially Sheridan, who won me over two years ago in The Tree of Life and showed me some real promise as the next, young actor to watch. The kid’s story-line may be a bit too packed for it’s own good, but the kid kept his head above water and that’s more than enough I can say about certain kid actors out there.
After her most recent 15 minutes of fame in the slammer, Reese Witherspoon finds a way to re-group herself from driving and puts her rump down in the acting chair, like she should because she’s good at it when she isn’t choosing shit scripts. That’s a very rare thing for her, but let’s just soak up the moment now, shall we? What’s good about Witherspoon here is that she uses her beauty to her advantage in the way that she never gives you everything you need to know about her, only what you think you need to know. She walks a very fine-line in being both easy to trust, but also a tad mysterious in her ways, and it’s a fine-line that Reese can walk (at least when she’s sober that is!!). I’m really glad that Reese picked up a role like this because it reminded me why the gal was so lovely and so talented in the first place. I mean, hello! She does have an Oscar!
Nichols’ buddy from his past two movies, Michael Shannon is here as an uncle of one of the youngsters and is good, even if he isn’t in it all that much. Actually, the role is so small that it seems like he just showed up for one day of filming, cleared-out his schedule, and went right back to being Zod and reading sorority sister letters. The one who really steals the spot-light away from them all is Sam Shepard who shows them that he is still the bad-ass he once was, even after all of these years. Nice to know that guy’s still around and can do shit and do it right.
Consensus: Mud takes a slight-detour into convention by the end, but it’s a trip that’s worth taking regardless because of the amazing performances, the heartfelt script, and characters that are worth watching because you care for them and feel as if you know them.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!