Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon, Ray McKinnon, Sam Shepard, Jacob Lofland
Thank God for Matthew McConaughey and the resurgence he's had of late. After last year's impeccable run of Bernie, Killer Joe, and Magic Mike, the affluent party animal of the 90's (who spent most of the decade dazed and confused.....see what I did there?) is on the top of his game. Mud is proof that the beach bum is in his element now.
Directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter) and starring McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shepard, and Tye Sheridan, Mud is an incredible journey about friendship and trust. While some of Nichols' direction get a little out of his hands, a stellar cast and exciting premise make the trip worthwhile.
Sheridan, who first came to notice in his debut The Tree of Life, plays Ellis, a 14-year old who seems somewhat wise beyond his years while also being completely naive. His friend Neckbone is played by newcomer Jacob Lofland. While the latter shows moments of weakness in his performance, Sheridan makes up for it in a powerful turn as the emotional, yet tough, young man. One scene in particular solidifies his place as a true tour de force. Remember his name.
McConaughey shows up after the two boys venture down the river to an island. First thinking they're alone, the boys soon find evidence that someone else is sharing the island. Known simply by the name Mud, this mysterious man is both interesting and uncomfortably frightening. Immediately he gains Ellis' trust after explaining how everything he's doing is for the sake of love. Ellis, too, is in the midst of his first renderings of high school feelings and love, so he connects with Mud and decides to trust him. Before we know it we find out about Mud's past, including a murder and the family of the victim, who's out to get revenge. And the boys get themselves mixed up in the mess by offering Mud a way out.
Included in all of this are clever supporting turns by Sam Shepard, as a crazy old man who comes to the rescue, Ray McKinnon, as Ellis' uptight father, and Reese Witherspoon, as Mud's long lost love, waiting for him in an area motel. Ellis' interactions with each of these people is the true lining here. From bouts of courage to moments of vulnerability, Sheridan displays the meatiest arc in the entire film. McConaughey displays his most connected role in recent films. And, Witherspoon is somewhat uninspired in her turn as the love interest. While she is always likable, there's just not much there as far as substance. She's pretty to look at, though.
The story works in exactly the way it's intended. While critiques could arise about a few scenes or pieces of dialogue here or there, Nichols has crafted a pretty great slice of life. The biggest disadvantage to the film is that the incredible story is hurt by its length. It runs about 2 hours and 10 minutes long. I'm not quite sure what should have been omitted, but there was an overall feeling the theater that it should have wrapped up about 20 minutes sooner.
The climax is worth the torture, though. When a quiet, sincere, touching moment between Ellis and Mud is interrupted by gunfire, I felt even myself holding back an audible scream.
Beautiful images in their own right, a perfect soundtrack, and the performance by Sheridan all make Mud worth a watch. The film was in the running for last year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and I'm sure we'll see it sneak into many awards and lists at the end of this year.
Runtime: 130 minutes