A story of growth and change along the Mighty Mississippi
Sometimes in the world of cinema, names are everything. Big time actors, directors of note and impressive, punctuation heavy movie titles help drive box office receipts. So what does the latest film from director Jeff Nicholas get to put on the movie poster?
As a result, many filmgoers may have passed this flick by in favor of flashier, more colon heavy offerings. When faced with a choice among Star Trek: Into Darkness (oooohh), The Great Gatsby(ahhhh) and topsoil mixed with water, it’s no wonder the film has gone relatively unnoticed. Luckily for those wiling to get their moviegoing hands dirty, Mud is a wonderfully paced film of growth and humanity. Like its predecessor Take Shelter, Mud is not only a must see, it’s bound to be included in my Top 10 of 2013.
Set in riverside Arkansas, Mud is the coming of age story of two local boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). While on one of their water bound adventures, the kids stumble across a small island and an odd sight: a boat suspended in the branches of a giant tree. Living in the boat is the strange Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Mud is waiting for the love of his life Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and with help of his two young friends, they put a plan in motion to reunite the twosome.
While the synopsis has a bit more detail than I usually provide, the crux of the film has little to do with the initial set dressing. The central themes of Mud bare more than a striking resemblance to a modern Mark Twain, touching on the fragile innocence of young love, loyalty and the hardships of simple living. Nicholas also proves he’s fantastic at capturing nature and using setting as more than a pretty backdrop. Long pans of the ever flowing Mississippi River give the film a sense of constant motion, another theme woven into the story. With the entire film shot in Nichols’ home state, the film also has a very authentic feel, giving the excellent characters a real home base to work their magic.
And what a wonderful cast it is. McConaughey’s Mud is a complex and interesting character. Half rebel, half saint and just a little bit dumb, you’re never sure of his intentions. Opposite McConaughey are two young newcomers, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland. Tye in particular is exceptional in a difficult lead role and the homegrown Lofland, selected from thousands of local kids, lends an authentic flavor to the pair. Supporting roles from Reese Witherspoon as the flighty Juniper, Sam Shepard as river bound hermit and a cameo by frequent Nichols collaborator Michael Shannon, round out an expertly selected cast.
If Shotgun Stories was his foundation and Take Shelter was the framing, Mud is the glue that cements Nichols as one of those aforementioned directors of note. While the picture may not have the movie poster bang of the other names in the marquee, if you care enough about film to be reading my reviews, this is a movie worth standing in line for. Besides, Star Trek will be out for at least another month. Catch this one while you can.