Film Review: MUD

Written and Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Lye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shephard, Michael Shannon

Mud (McConaughey) is a man two young boys come upon when scouting an island for a boat one has spotted in a tree. Ellis (Sheridan) immediately relates to Mud who begins spinning, or perhaps truthfully recounting tales, of his love for the elusive, Juniper (Witherspoon) and the trouble that obsession has caused him. Ellis is a romantic too, currently slaying dragons for an older high school student. Neckbone (Lofland) is the cynical, funny friend to Ellis. The intensity of Mud and Ellis is nicely balanced by Neck until we realize Ellis is his obsession.

Life on the Mississippi is just as hard as it’s ever been, especially for outlaws, and the boys are soon running errands, feeding, and carrying love notes to Juniper once she turns up in town. Mud throws these boys into harm’s way time and again, although he has no bad intentions. He’s just the sort of guy who attracts trouble wherever he goes. The beautiful Juniper serves the same function for him—a troublesome figure since childhood. Also part of the plot are the boys’ fractured families and the mysterious, Tom Blackenship (Shephard), a reluctant father figure for Mud. And then there’s a band of scalawags on the hunt for Mud.

There are so many themes in this movie, it’s hard to know where to start. Certainly we see resemblances to HUCK FINN, THE GO-BETWEEN and STAND BY ME. And it’s very much about the power of romantic love. And the relationship between fathers and sons, the one between two teenage boys. It is about river life. There is a timelessness to this movie. It takes place somewhere mythic and powerful. The setting is so rich, the characters so fleshed out, the dialog so right, it is nearly a perfect film. My only caveat is the women are too broadly drawn. Three Eves is perhaps too many.

Highly recommended. It is hard to imagine a better film this year.

Patti Abbott