Mud is the perfect kind of drama – compelling, interesting, thought-provoking, and devoid of sappiness.
It seems that these days some of the greatest films are those that can’t be found at a normal multiplex. These are known as independent films, or those that are produced outside of normal Hollywood studios. One such film is Mud, a seemingly simple story from writer-director Jeff Nichols starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role. Inspired by the works of Mark Twain, is Mud a truly epic tale of Southern drama?
Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two teenage friends living in the backwaters of Nebraska. One day, they decide to go out in their boat exploring down a nearby river. They soon come across an island in the river, in which they also find a man living there. This man’s name is Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a deeply mysterious and strange person who is struggling to lead a life on this small island. Ellis and Neckbone quickly become friends with Mud, and soon agree to help him find his lost love and subsequently leave the agony he is forced to abide in before it gets too late.
Mud is the best film I have seen this year thus far, and for a number of reasons. First of all, writer-director Jeff Nichols was smart in starting off his story simple and then expanding it as Mud continued on. As Mud progresses on, the stakes are consistently raised, keeping the story emotionally investing, well-paced and interesting. Within that, this film has all of the elements of a good drama – conflict, redemption, betrayal, loss, love, etc. Thankfully, Nichols was able to group together all of these elements to craft a truly great story with a satisfying conclusion. Another great element of Nichols’ screenplay is that the dialogue is both realistic and enjoyable. While there are many truths spoken about society and humanity in the dialogue, the exchanges between the characters are also entertaining, especially the dialogue spoken by Mud and Neckbone.
Speaking of which, one key reason why Mud has such a great story is because of its characters. The ones we are supposed to care for are actually interesting and likeable enough for us to do so, but they also have many interesting layers and understandable motives. Some last great elements of the story are the symbols and themes of the plot that leave a lasting impact, for Mud has many lessons that concern classic topics such as love, morality and redemption. However, the interesting thing is that Mud is accessible enough for any viewer, but contains enough artistic value to be something more than that. I suppose my main complaint is its length since Mud sometimes slows down, but otherwise, this film is built upon a fantastic screenplay.
The cast of Mud is also great. Matthew McConaughey has once again proved that he is no longer simply a sex symbol – he is a legitimate actor who gives us characters one can become invested in. His portrayal of Mud is no different, for in his performance he has created a memorable character. McConaughey’s usage of nuance, charisma and emotional restraint creates a wonderful performance. Perhaps equally great – if not better – are Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, the teenage leads in the cast. Mud is more or less Tye Sheridan’s film, for the story is told from his character’s perspective. Thankfully, he holds own against the more seasoned thespians in Mud, for his excellent emotion and determination to his role is great to behold on screen. Jacob Lofland is also quite hilarious as Ellis’ best friend, Neckbone, while also holding everything together in the more dramatic moments. I truly hope that Mud paves the way for these two young actors to expand their careers, for they both do an excellent job here. Reese Witherspoon also makes a welcome return as Mud’s sweetheart, for she does well in making her conflicted character relatable. Michael Shannon, a regular collaborator with the director (he was the star of his two previous films, Shotgun Stories and the critically-acclaimed Take Shelter), also appears in Mud, providing a few hysterically funny moments.
Mud is a beautifully filmed movie, for the work by the DP is near to the same level of clarity and finesse as the great Roger Deakins (known for The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men, and Skyfall). Jeff Nichols’ direction is great for this film, for he doesn’t get in the way of the performances in any way, but he still does enough to infuse detail into the version of the South he has created in Mud. It’s a bold, but simple vision, and for the story at hand his direction works very well. I also loved the soundtrack, for the subtle guitar melodies that pervade the mood of the film truly accent the raw emotion at the core of Mud. The music is low key, but once it’s noticed, the score is powerful enough that it becomes impossible to ignore.
It may have a strange title, but even so Mud is a truly incredible film. While it may not be perfect, it comes very close to being a masterpiece. Mud is the first truly great film of 2013, and my personal favorite of the year so far. With a mix of intense drama, deep performances, a great script and beautiful visuals, this is a film that I hope gets some attention as the year goes on. I implore you to seek out Mud at a theater near you. This is a drama that cannot be missed.