In a career of late that is surely spotty at best, Matthew McConaughy brings the talent to the table starring in his new film, Mud, written and directed by the also talented Jeff Nichols.
I can’t seem to find too many Matthew McConaughy movies that are really good. People sure do like to point out Dazed and Confused, but you know that was his first feature film, right? He followed that up with appearances in Angels in the Outfield and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Next Generation. Those endeavors would put a few years between anything of note until A Time To Kill and Contact, when people finally figured he might be worth casting. Then of course came Reign of Fire. That confused people again. Then there were a bunch of horrible romantic-comedy-adventures that sucked, with The Lincoln Lawyer thrown in that some folks liked. I guess. I don’t want to hear about Magic Mike. I’m still a bit baffled by Soderbergh making that. Recently McConaughy’s taken some roles in smaller films and that finally seems to be working for him. I, for one, will say that his performance in Mud is perhaps the best work I’ve ever seen him do.
14 year old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) spends much of his free time with his friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) as they explore the tributaries of southern Alabama in their motorized skiff. One day they go beyond the small waterways into the river and out in that great expanse they come upon an island. There they spot an old boat up in a tree, washed there by a past flood. As they climb up into it prepared to claim it as their own (the perfect childhood fort), they discover by way of a loaf of bread, some cans of beans, and muddy bootprints, that it already has an inhabitant. As they return to their skiff, they meet Mud, said resident of that stranded boat.
Mud (Matthew McConaughy) is a mysterious, coarse, charismatic guy with an underlying sense of danger about him. Exactly what might make two teenage boys, Ellis, with his parents on the verge of splitting up, and Neckbone, who’s been living with his uncle Galen (Michael Shannon) since he never knew his father, might be drawn to at this time in their lives. But more so Ellis, who is exploring his own romantic life, as Mud is hiding out waiting for his life long love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). Mud is able to persuade the boys to help him, by getting him food at first, but then with the more daunting task of trying to get that boat out of the tree and into the water – and functional. But along the way, Ellis finds that there is much more to love, truth and growing up in real life.
The acting all around is strong, most especially in McConaughy’s character, Mud, but perhaps even moreso in the young actors playing Ellis and Neckbone. It is, in essence, Ellis’s film, though surely much of the focus is shared by McConaughy. McConaughy is particularly reserved here, choosing to keep his character real; he never over plays it. Mud also stars Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson as Ellis’s parents, Sam Shepard as Tom Blankenship, the man that is as close to being Mud’s father as he’s going to get, and Michael Shannon as Neckbone’s uncle, makng the most of a small role, as usual.
There is a lot of beauty in much of the shots of the river and it sometimes almost seems dreamlike in the lazy warmth of the empty river. Writer/Director Jeff Nichols is thorough about the details of life in the south and really creates a fully three-dimensional setting. Nichols also wrote and directed two other really great films, Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, that are perhaps better than this, and absolutely worth seeing.
The only thing I have a problem with is that the film is two hours and ten minutes long. There are some moments where they could probably have trimmed in order to keep things moving a little faster in the second half. There is one or two places I might have ended the film that may have given it more impact. Nonetheless, the film is still pretty strong, and it doesn’t hinder things too much.
Mud is easily a three and a half kittenhand film. Worth Seeing, for sure. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland are great young actors and even those who don’t care for Matthew McConaughy might like him here. Oh, poor Matthew. I don’t paint a very pretty picture of him, do I? Oh, well. Not my fault. Maybe you can blame his agent for the last several Hollywood movies he’s done. Or not. He’s not a robot, he could say ‘no’ to a script every once in a while. Unless he IS a robot. Damn, there’s your next film Matthew! You’re welcome!
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer with a not-so-average sounding name. I might seem all hoity-toity using my middle initial, but I watch movies that same way everyone does: while putting my pants on one leg at a time.