Review – Mud
Like a cross between Huckleberry Finn and Stand By Me, Mud is an excellent movie on so many levels. Two young boys living along an Arkansas stretch of the Mississippi river have discovered a boat stuck in a tree on an island close to their homes. They theorize that the boat was washed up there in the last batch of floods, as they’re on basically a sand island. This boat could mean so many things to them: freedom, a sense of ownership, and adventure. Of course there is the matter of it being stuck forty feet above ground in a tree, and away from the shore….and then there’s the man with the snake tattoo on his arm and a pistol in his belt called Mud who happens to be living in the boat. Mud (Matthew McConaughey) tells the boys (Ellis played by, Tye Sheridan and “Neckbone” (or Neck for short) played by Jacob Lofland) that he’s just waiting on the island for someone. His girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) who he has loved since he was ten years old, is coming to meet him and once they’re together, they’ll take the boat and be free themselves. Juniper was abused by an man who Mud then killed, but now the man’s family (along with a series of bounty hunters) are searching for Mud. Striking a deal with Ellis and Neck, the two boys agree to bring Mud food and the supplies he needs to free the boat from the tree and get it back in the water, as well as communicating with Juniper for him.
I have to say that I had not heard a thing about Mud, until a few weeks ago. I hadn’t even seen a trailer, and when I did, it didn’t really do much for me. It looked good, but didn’t have anything that made me think I absolutely had to see this film, but word of mouth was good, and I’m certainly glad I listened because Mud delivered. It was a coming of age story for the boys as well as an adventure tale, but it was also a very clever little love story showing us love at various stages in life. Ellis befriends a girl who he thinks is now his girlfriend, so we see someone’s first foray into love and the results when it is not returned. Ellis’ parents are separating, so we see love that was once strong but is now falling apart. We see the blind love between Mud and Juniper. Mud’s only father figure (Tom Blankenship played by Sam Shepard) comments that Mud is foolish because he can’t see how Juniper is using him. She has not been faithful to him, and has gotten into lots of bad relationships knowing that Mud will always be there, and rescue her when she needs it. Finally we see love from the point of view of Neck’s Uncle Galen, which is a humourous turn compared to the rest of the cast. Galen is just looking for sex, and when he’s getting it, the boys know not to enter the house because the Beach Boys’ Help Me, Rhonda is playing at full volume. Galen explains to the boys that Rhonda is just a song about some guy trying to get a girl to ease the pain of the last one.
Beyond all these messages, the movie was a great tale featuring the two young boys, who both did a tremendous job acting. Matthew McConaughey was perfectly cast as the fugitive Mud, living alone and then welcoming the friendship and attention from the kids. Though the movie is named after Mud, the excellence came about because Ellis and Neck were such good characters. We see nearly everything from their perspective, and in a short amount of time writer/director Jeff Nichols actually develops their characters well. The visuals are equally exciting, as the river comes alive and shows its importance to the boys and its place in their lives. Beautifully shot, beautifully told, an excellent movie all around, and a treat to watch. Five Stars, well deserved.