Director Jeff Nichols impressed many with his film Take Shelter and has got a lot more critical acclaim for Mud. Part Huckleberry Finn, a little bit dark fairy tale, and with more than splash of Southern Gothic and Whistle Down The Wind thrown in, it’s an absorbing film even if it likes to take its time doing anything.
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) is a young teen who lives with his parents on a houseboat in Arkansas. The river is his father’s life, although his mother is on the verge of packing up and leaving. Along with his friend, Neckbone (Jacob Loflan), Ellis heads off to find a boat that’s gotten stuck in a tree during a flood. They want to make the vessel theirs but they discover it’s being used by a man called Mud (Matthew McConaughey) as somewhere to sleep.
They make a deal with Mud that if they bring him food, when his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) arrives and they leave together, the young men can have the boat. Ellis soon discovers there’s more to this stranger than meets the eye, and that the reason he’s in the boat is that he’s hiding from the authorities and a group of bounty hunters sent by the father of a man he killed.
Despite this, Ellis continues to help him, particularly as he believes strongly in the love between Mud and Juniper, even as his own parents’ marriage falls apart.
Mud is a film that likes to take its time, soaking us in the Southern feel and allowing the mix of innocence and danger to waft over the viewer. It does mean that it takes the film 130 minutes to tell a story other movies would have fit into about 90, but that’s not a problem as it does it so well. The pace is part of the story, although those who demand constant pops and fireworks may wish it would hurry up. It’s also a great movie to look, which is certainly brought out by the Blu-ray picture.
The film has a great script backed up by some excellent performances, not least from Matthew McConaughey, who after years of paycheck acting in one crappy rom-com after another is now living up to the promise of his early career (you have to wonder whether becoming a dad made him think about things differently).
Some have criticised the movie by suggesting it’s sexist and that all the women are shrewish emasculators. A brief surface reading would seem to back that up, until you realise that there could almost be a parallel movie made from the perspective of the female characters which would be just as interesting. This is a film about men and their outlook on the world, with much of the movie seen through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy. All we hear is what the men think of the women and how wives and girlfriend constantly fail to live up to expectations. However none of the men actually ask the women that they think about all this – indeed much of the time they decide things and never communicate them to the females around them.
Indeed that’s part of the point of the film. It’s a movie about love, and the feelings that seemingly hard men have, but it’s also about how these loves and expectations are largely based in their own heads. They end up interpreting the women around them as shrews or teases, but it’s because they’ve made the women that way by deciding who they are and how they should live their lives and never asking them about it.
It’s a film that rewards a bit of thought, as Nichols has filled his screenplay with a lot more depth than it first appears. It certainly suggests that he’s a talent to watch and there’s a feeling with Mud that he hasn’t reached his peak yet.
The special features include a very good ‘making of…’ featurette, which looks at the making of the movie, how the young actors were cast and plenty more. There are also a selection of cast and crew interviews.
Overall Verdict: It may take its time, but Mud is a rewarding movie that offers up a lot in return for a little patience.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac