Tuesday, 21 January 2014
Jeff Nichols // 2013 // 130 mins
When 14 year old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) take venture out to a secluded island on the Mississippi river to find an abandoned boat suspend high in a tree the pair encounter Mud (Matthew McConaughey), a dirty, superstitious outlaw who is hiding on the island until he is reunited with his beloved Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and the pair can flee together. Ellis is charmed by Mud and along with his reluctant friend vows to help this wild stranger prepare for his escape from both the authorities and a group of so-called bounty hunters that are out to see him killed.
Mud is anchored by a stunning breakthrough performance by Tye Sheridan who embodies the hopeful naivety that is now intrinsically connected to the coming-of-age film, and brings to life a young character that we want want to shelter from the hardships he will face during his transition into manhood. The young actor brings a raw talent that remains strong throughout as he steers a dark and mature script and manages to outshine a number of seasoned actors. As the title character McConaughey is transformed. Mud is an enchanting being who seems as inviting as he does dangerous and the actor gives his all, continuing his streak of brilliant performances in Killer Joe, The Paperboy and even Magic Mike. It is an unglamorous role, but McConaughey's sincerity shines through his dirtied appearance, revealing a complex, well-written anti-hero. In a more subdued but just as engrossing role is Reese Witherspoon as Juniper, who plays out the hopelessness of Juniper's situation with a quiet desperation and stunning subtlety. The likes of Sam Shepard, Sarah Paulson, Ray McKinnon and Michael Shannon fill out the supporting cast, with director Jeff Nichols ensuring that even the minor roles are occupied by great talents.
At its core this is a film about the disenchantment of youth. In spite of a home life that is falling apart before him, Ellis is an incredibly caring and hopeful individual who immediately see's the goodness in Mud and wants to help him. He stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, and often at the risk of his own well-being. Ellis is perfectly happy with his humble lifestyle as it is and fears what change may bring. The rift between his parents threatens to disrupt this lifestyle and so when Ellis witnesses Mud's dedication to his love and his desire to ensure a life for them together he is swept up into his world. The brutal realisation that life doesn't always so easily go to plan and that people aren't as black and white in their desires is a heartbreaking one when seen through such an optimistic youth. The neutral palette that dominates the film results in truly stunning cinematography that portrays the Arkansas landscape as equally bleak and beautiful, and provides a suitable backdrop to the myth-like narrative of the film. The only place where the film falters is in the few instances where the focus drifts from Ellis as, though these scenes are necessary, they feel out of place and disrupt the films otherwise perfect flow.
Mud is a timeless southern fable about growing up and finding that our world, and those that inhabit it, are more flawed than we would like them to be. This is a rich story of self-discovery and the performances that it brings from the actors are something to behold and truly a pleasure to lose yourself in for two hours.