Director/Writer: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Matthew McConaughey, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon
Synopsis: Two teenage boys, Ellis (Sheridan) and Neckbone (Lofland), encounter a mysterious man on a deserted island deep in Arkansas. Initially they feel perturbed about his deserted-dwelling life but start to find out more about his personality and his reason for a nomadic existence.
Having started off with a hard-hitting drama, moving onto a film combining nightmares and a humdrum reality, to now crafting a film of magic-realism, Jeff Nichols consistently casts an interesting eye on the “American way”. His films embed themselves into your psyche and show you the detail and charm of the (Deep) South lifestyle. Whereas his first two films presented honourable characters, there was always a darkness itching away at the aesthetic; for Mud, he shines a mostly-beautiful light on the ethereal essence of his hometown.
First thing to be said about the film is its value up on the silver screen. The colour and sound has a John Huston/John Ford-type vitality when reflecting certain aspects of Americana. Cinematographer Adam Stone has, since Shotgun Stories, captured some beautiful imagery for Nichols’ work, with Mud highlighting that even more. His imagery stuns from time to time – recapturing that traditional Hollywood glow (despite it being a relatively independent production). The only downside to the picture quality is the lack of a full 35mm print cinematic release – a format that would spectacularly show-off the film’s beauty.
With pastoral, pictorial punctuation the film may drag for some. However, those won-over by the coming-of-age story alongside fugitive drama, will never grow weary of the steady pace. If anything, the last 20 minutes, that includes a touch too many scenes, serves as a reminder to the wonders of the film’s measure and tone. Following the young boys as they discover girls, their American back-garden, and the perils of some adult livelihoods, feels like the purest of any stories. Certainly in-keeping with Nichol’s Tom Sawyer-inspiration, and his obvious loyalty to the citizens of the South, makes the film sincerely enjoyable and fascinating.
To begin with the film’s epoch is not wholly clear, reinforcing the timelessness of Mud; it could take place in from anywhere between the late 1800s until today. Furthermore, the writing and execution feels elegantly archetypal, making the film an immediate classic.
Helping it along its way, other than the filmmakers’ efforts, is a sterling cast led by Tye Sheridan and Matthew McConaughey. The former is a prodigy, stripping the stardom away from all those famous he shares scenes with. One confrontation with him and McConaughey’s Mud leaves you in awe (just as it clearly did the Killer Joe star, judging from his reaction). With fantastic support from newcomer Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, Ray McKinnon and Michael Shannon (never seen so down to earth on screen since...ever), Mud greatly advertises the ensemble cast and community spirit of filmmaking. Having many of the Arkansas citizens as extras on the film, and acquiring a cast of brilliant character actors, injects an authenticity whilst marking the creativity of a crew.
Two stars – one at the height of his career, the other exceptionally establishing his – leading the way for Nichol’s third triumph, in a story very touching, exciting, and funny. Mud can be categorised in a number of ways but perhaps, most interestingly, it is a story about love and trust. How the extraordinary circumstances teach Ellis and Neckbone about friendship and devotion unravels illustriously. Tied to the warming aspect of the story is a sunlight that basks the film in a luminosity, making Mud a quintessential summer movie, and a lasting one at that.
*****By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms