Movie Review: Mud
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Director: Jeff Nichols
Screenwriter: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson
Lionsgate Films
Rated PG-13 | 131 Minutes
Release Date: April 26, 2013

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Mud stars Matthew McConaughey as the title character, a charismatic desperado on the run from ruthless bounty hunters.

“Galen said it’s been here awhile. He thinks the last flood did it.” Neckbone, an adolescent boy in camouflage pants and a Fugazi t-shirt, and his friend Ellis are exploring a small island on the Mississippi River where they discover a motorboat stuck in the branches of a twisted old tree.

Like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) and Ellis (Tye Sheridan) are two poor boys on a great adventure through the American South. After investigating the motorboat, the two encounter Mud, a drifter with a gun in his waistband and crosses in his heels – nails in the shape of crosses – that protect him from evil spirits.

According to Mud, his true love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) is awaiting his arrival in the small town of DeWitt, Arkansas, where they plan to make a daring getaway together. Intrigued by the outlaw’s story, the boys agree to help Mud slip past his pursuers and reunite with Juniper. But with each subsequent visit to the island “” trips Ellis hides from his parents (Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson) and Neckbone from his uncle (Michael Shannon) “” they learn things are not what they seem.

Jeff Nichols made his debut with the 2007 film Shotgun Stories. The writer-director followed that well-received independent feature with Take Shelter, starring Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain. With Mud, Nichols solidifies himself as a first-rate American filmmaker with a very long career ahead of him. The cinematography by Adam Stone (Take Shelter, Compliance) captures the dirt and grime (and beauty) of the American South and all of Nichols’ decisions are spot-on. He knows precisely where to put the camera – how to frame the shot – to get the most meaning out of his images.

Similar to the protagonists of Winter’s Bone and Beasts of the Southern Wild, the characters in Mud are thankful for what little they have. They’re earnest, hardworking folks who live off the land and reject modern conveniences.

Nichols’ focus on character and the environment that shapes them elevates Mud above just another fugitive on the run story. Mud features no computers, no cell phones, no internet – it a timeless tale of man and nature. 100 years from now, Mud will ring just as true as it does today, and because of that Nichols’ film will be a definitive American classic.

McConaughey delivers yet another tremendous performance after a stunning showing last year in Bernie, Magic Mike, and Killer Joe. Sheridan and Lofland are perfectly cast as the kind-hearted; rough around the edges Ellis and the take-no-shit Neckbone. The supporting cast, including Sam Shepard and Joe Don Baker, flesh out Nichols’ down south drama with memorable, realistic characters.

While not as metaphorical (or ambiguous) as Take Shelter, Nichols’ Mud is an exquisite piece of storytelling that is as creatively rich as it is emotionally rewarding. A poignant coming-of-age tale, Mud is one of the best films of 2013.


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