Matthew McConaughey continues his recent streak of interesting, meaty roles after a prolonged period of playing bland romantic leads. Here he gives a terrific central performance as the eponymous Mud, a fugitive hiding on an island in the Mississippi discovered by young teenage boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland).
Ellis and Neckbone decide to help Mud try and communicate with his long lost love Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), who lives nearby. Cue all manner of atmospheric, contemporary Huckleberry Finn shenanigans. It isn’t just Mark Twain being evoked either. Writer/director Jeff Nichols (who made the excellent Take Shelter) also explores thematic ground previously explored in Great Expectations and Stand by Me, with perhaps just a dash of Whistle down the Wind. In other words, this is a coming of age story.
And it’s a very good one. Performances are all solid, especially from McConaughey, and Adam Stone’s cinematography positively oozes with the sweaty menace and beauty of the Deep South. Do see it in the cinema if you can.
But what really causes the film linger in the mind are its melancholy themes. For instance, the transition from childhood adventures to more adolescent concerns; including the painful awkwardness of discovering the opposite sex and the crushing discovery that nothing lasts forever.
Most emphatically, this is an empowering film dealing with the pain of divorce. Ellis’ parents are going to separate, so when he discovers Mud’s quest to get back together with Juniper, he helps because he desperately wants to believe in the power of true love. Ellis is a romantic, an idealist, who learns some bitter realities about the fallen world in the course of the story. But he also learns to at least begin to come to terms with his feelings and situation.
In summary, Mud is a very fine piece of work. It perhaps lapses into predictability in its final sections, but the film is nevertheless eerie, evocative and absorbing.