Director: Jeff Nichols Writer: Jeff Nichols Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland Running time: 130 minutes Year: 2012
This review first appeared on Derby QUAD Blog
Matthew McConaughey is making big changes to his method. Anything he appears in almost certainly guarantees that at some point he’ll tear off his shirt – under the illusion that it’s too hot/it got dirty/it’s suddenly gone out of fashion.
One hour and thirty six minutes. That’s how long it takes for him to get out his abracadabras in Mud. That’s got to be a record. It’s definitely an indicator that he now prides himself on his acting ability rather than his prowess in the gym.
Of course, the audience for a film like Mud aren’t the sort who’d be distraught if he remained shirt-on throughout. A sweltering moody tale Mud tramps us through the story of river dwelling teen, Ellis. He and his buddy Neckbone could be the children of Stand By Me’s Gordie Lachance and Chris Chambers. Neckbone’s spitting image of River Phoenix permeates his character’s cheeky verbal spats as well as his crew cut.
When the two pals discover a washed up boat stuck high up in a tree on a nearby island, they plan on claiming it for themselves. That is until they find a mysterious stranger called Mud has already set up home in it.
As the story unravels like a long unending summer day, the youngsters seek to aid Mud in his quest to get the boat operational to rendezvous with his long-lost girlfriend.
Mud relies on these two likeable scamps to lead the audience through the story, as no adult could ever capture the grass-stains-on-your-jeans tearaway joy of youth.
Mud relies on these two likeable scamps to lead the audience through the story, as no adult could ever capture the grass-stains-on-your-jeans tearaway joy of youth. Unwinding like wish fulfilment for the two lads, Ellis and Neckbone embark on a series of adventures most adolescents only read about tucked up in bed with a comic: rescuing blondes from thuggish types; going on the scrounge for an enigmatic hero and getting the attention of an older girl. The choice to guide us through Mud’s tale via this route is a smart move.
The adult characters who punctuate the story’s journey with the voice of reason throw in a throng of seasoned supporting actors. Man Of Steel’s Michael Shannon as Neckbone’s Uncle adds a touch of comic relief and American Horror Story’s Sarah Paulson as the concerned mother connects Ellis’s warmth to his reckless nature. They provide a solid anchor from which the boys can wander.
Director Jeff Nichols love for his characters radiates as they reveal their innermost desires by the natural light of the film’s beautiful locale. As McConaughey advises the boys one night, the flames from a beach fire cast him as a dark shadowy fugitive who’s got heart. The sun-kissed actor carries the focus of the narrative’s drive with aplomb. On the run from bounty hunters, Mud reflects in Ellis a desire to overcome hardships and take the righteous path in life. The grittiest exposes emerge during his conversations with the teenagers, lending him pathos no one else offers.
There’s a slow burning story here, which loses its way around the hour mark. Twenty minutes could have been shaved from the beginning of the second hour to pack the film’s final outcome with a weightier punch. Thankfully Mud is a beautifully-shot parable, twinning picturesque sunsets with the uglier side of human nature that’ll make you envious of a life on the river.
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