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Posted by martinteller on September 12, 2013

Ellis (Tye Sheridan) is a 14-year-old living on the river in Arkansas.  His folks (Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson) are having marital problems, and the threat of divorce looms over the riverboat household.  Ellis and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) take an excursion down the river to an island, to lay claim to a boat hanging in a tree, left there by a flood.  But they find it’s already been claimed… by a mysterious man (Matthew McConaughey) who calls himself “Mud”.  Mud is on the run from the law — and a vengeful family — and he needs the boat to escape the area with his beloved Juniper (Reese Witherspoon).  Ellis and Neck aid him in his quest.

This is a subtle and often beautiful coming-of-age film.  It unfolds with masterful ease, carrying you along its narrative like the river itself.  While the film is far more straightforward than Jeff Nichols’s previous film, Take Shelter, it shows a confident sense of storytelling.  Without any grandiose gestures (except at the end), these characters are oddly fascinating and their tales feel genuine.  McConaughey is surprisingly good here, imbuing Mud with a kind of mythical status while keeping him completely down-to-earth.  Sheridan pulls off an excellent juvenile performance, and even Paulson didn’t bother me for once.

The treatment of this region and the personalities that populate it is refreshingly respectful and free of condescension.  This is a South that’s much more in line with something like David Gordon Green’s George Washington than the quaint archetypes of Beasts of the Southern Wild.  It’s a perspective we don’t see enough of in movies.  These characters are as real as any fine drama set in New York or Los Angeles.  Ellis is distinctly of the area, but also fully relatable as a young man learning about the pitfalls — and also the hard-won rewards — of adult relationships.

The climax of the film is somewhat problematic in that, despite its inevitability, it still seems to come out of nowhere and undermine the understated drama preceding it.  But it’s a fairly minor complaint for an otherwise very compelling film.  I will have to go back to the beginning of Nichols’s career and check out Shotgun Stories at some point.  Rating: Very Good (85)


2 Responses to “Mud”

  1. Anonymous said

    Shotgun Stories is very good. Please seek it out

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