Running Time: 130 minutes
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson
Directed By: Jeff Nichols
Rating: 7 out of 10
Two kids find an abandoned boat and a strange man in the woods.
Note to all kids out there, if you find random things in the woods, just turn the other way because weird shit is about to go down. Mud is the story of two rural kids (Ellis and Neckbone.) They discover an abandoned boat in the deep woods and claim it for themselves. The boat seems like found treasure until they realize the boat is not as abandoned as they think. A mystery man (named Mud), who is living in the woods, is the other claimant of the boat and he is willing to give up his claim…..for a price.
There are so many things to like about this movie I am not sure where to start. It is a coming of age story, it is a mystery, it is a love story, and it is well crafted drama. It also has elements of family dysfunction, revenge, and moral issues. Normally I hate these types of films that go for too many themes, as they always come off as sloppy and disjointed. Mud is neither of those things. The film starts out and we see the two best friends, Ellis and Neckbone, living the life of young teens in rural/small town Arkansas. They are often left to their own devices, and they get to explore the world as they see fit. In one of their adventures, they come across an abandoned boat on a deserted island, or so it would seem. A man (Mud) inhabits the island and he claims that the boat is his. Instantly, the viewer is hooked by this scenario. No one should be living on this island, but here this stranger is. The kids are hesitant to talk to Mud as he puts the strange in stranger. There is something intriguing about Mud though, and it is easy to believe that he can charm two kids into helping him out. Mud is shady and yet he is interesting. He seems simple and yet he tells fantastic tales. He is homeless and yet he is confident and proud. They strike a deal for ownership of the boat, but it entails that Ellis and Neckbone complete some errands for Mud before that transaction is complete. The first half of this film is replete with budding friendships, interesting characters, and strange interactions.
The acting in this is fantastic right across the board. Ellis is played by Tye Sheridan and Neckbone is played Jacob Lofland. The two best friends have an easy relationship that reminded me of the kids from Stand by Me. They are more mature then they should be at 14 and yet they seem like little kids at other times. They go about their lives (and errands) as if a camera wasn’t even on them. They get into fights, they talks to girls, they go into places they shouldn’t. Believable lifelong friendships are hard to pull off in a 2 hour time span, Sheridan and Lofland had no trouble convincing me. Mud was played by the completely reinvented Matthew McConaughey, and he was perfect. I can’t think of anyone who has turned a career around like this cat has. I hated him with a passion until his last few films. He was always so smarmy and one dimensional. But, with films like Killer Joe, Bernie, The Lincoln Lawyer, and now Mud, McConaughey could have an Oscar on his resume in the near future. Mud is a character that is all over the map. With his crooked teeth and his slight lisp, he wins the viewer over with tales of romance and the wide world. His past and present are a mystery, but he treats the two kids with respect and treats them as adults. The three of them form an odd friendship that will define the rest of their lives. Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard have brief appearances, but make great additions to the story.
As the film carries on it is clear that some of these errands are going to get the boys into trouble. As the days pass, Mud’s past starts to come to light and the kids have to make some tough decisions on what to do next. Ellis has to balance a struggling home life, a budding romance, and his conscience. The film is many things, but I was captivated the most by these two young kids as they traverse a very violent and often times cruel world. In Conclusion, this film will not be for everyone as it is very slow. But if you are a fan of a well crafted drama, great acting, and a boatload of interesting characters, then Mud is a sure fire hit.
I was unfamiliar with Director and writer Jeff Nichols work, but I will be paying attention to his stuff in the future. He seems to be able to combine a whirlwind of themes and harness the chaos it causes. When Mud is on the screen, you are wondering what his story is. When the kids are on the screen, you are wondering what sort of trouble they are going to get into next. Small towns sometimes have huge secrets, and it is neat to see two young kids at the center of the storm. Great work Mr. Nichols; this film has both character and soul.
I give this movie a recommendation and if you are wondering, McConaughey does take his shirt off in this.
T Factor + If you like the drama genre then this could score higher on the rating scale.
T Factor – If you do not like Matthew McConaughey as an actor then this could score lower on the rating scale.
If you liked this film reel recommendations: Stand by Me, Undertow