First Hit: A well-crafted film with excellent performances.
Where “To the Wonder” tried to show love and didn’t speak about love, “Mud” evoked a story around what love can drive people to do or not do.
This film evoked the feeling of Arkansas, the difference between town people and river folk, and how love can confuse young and old alike. We’ve got two young boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his close friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) finding a boat in a tree. It got there through one of the horrific storms that come through the south.
While exploring their new found treasure, they run into Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who has commandeered the boat for his own purposes. Listening to him talk you get a sense that he skirts the truth while embracing wives tales and superstitions when they serve his purpose. He convinces the boys he’s there to meet his love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) whom he’s loved his whole life.
He’s also hiding out because he killed one of Juniper’s boyfriends for hitting her. Now the boyfriend’s family and police are after him for revenge. Ellis has an idealistic view of love and it is congruent with the devotion Mud has for Juniper. However his mom Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) and dad, Senior (Ray McKinnon), are talking divorce and Ellis sees his life falling apart. He’s a strong willed kid and when he stops a guy from pushing a girl he likes by hitting him, he becomes enamored and hopes she like him. He and Mud connect in this way.
This film is not fast paced and, at times, I wanted it to make it go faster, but then I exhaled and let the film continue its elegant unfolding.
Sheridan was sublime by evoking strength, compassion and mindfulness. He was extraordinary. Lofland was equally superb and as a friend to Sheridan he was perfect. I would be surprised if I learned they are not real life friends as well. McConaughey was amazing. As his recent films have shown, he’s really choosing parts that work for him and that he can bring good things to the director of the film. Witherspoon is great in this role because it reminded me of the intensity and power of her early “Freeway” role. I loved her in that film and can still feel the intense scenes with Kiefer Sutherland. Paulson is really good and I loved her presence in the film as the woman struggling and needing to change her life. McKinnon is good, especially as the film moved on. Sam Shepard (as Tom Blankenship) is strong as Mud’s closest friend and surrogate dad. Michael Shannon (as Galen), Neckbone's uncle and caretaker was really good and it was good to see him in this role. Joe Don Baker has a minor and pivotal role as the father of the man Mud killed. Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this film with patience and a great eye for bringing out the south.
Overall: Although slow at times – it was well worth it.