Film Review: Mud

Ellis (Tye Sheriden) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two Arkansas youngsters who go searching in a nearby forest after hearing of a boat stuck up a tree. However, when they find said boat, they also stumble across a mysterious fugitive by the name of Mud (Matthew McConaughey). The boys agree to help Mud fix up the boat and reunite him with his old girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), but can Mud be trusted?

Mud, like its titular character, is an enigmatic beast. At first glance it’s a harsh, troubling film full of people with flaws and an appetite for (their own and others’) destruction. However, look a little deeper and there’s much more to it. It’s a film about relationships: ones that fail, ones that grow and ones that survive no matter what.

It’s part family drama, part coming of age story, part crime drama, and a few other bits and bobs scattered throughout, too.  We see Ellis fall in love for the first time, have to struggle with his parents’ faltering marriage, as well as take on the responsibilities bestowed on him by Mud.

It recalls Stand By Me in the relationship between Ellis and Neckbone, as well as the opening few scenes where the two travel into the woods in search of a boat they’ve heard is stuck up a tree. It also bears similarities with this year’s The Way Way Back, particularly in the relationships between the central young lead and those around him, namely his parents and an iconic older figure he looks up to. In this case that’s Matthew McConaughey’s Mud.

mud

McConaughey appears to have completed his transformation from rom-com laughing stock to genuinely serious actor. His roles in films such as Killer Joe and The Paperboy proved he really can act, and he’s similarly impressive here. We have no idea if Mud is a good guy at heart or not, yet he’s intriguing, an allure that both Ellis and Neckbone are drawn to. McConaughey plays the role suitably aloof, almost as a kind of anti-hero, perfectly balancing the character’s dangerous and sensitive sides.

Equally as fantastic are the two child actors, Tye Sheriden and Jacob Lofland. The two are reminiscent of Wil Wheaton and River Phoenix in Stand By Me, with Sheriden in particular giving a quite superb performance, perhaps even outshining McConaughey in his genuinity and heart.

Set in Arkansas along the Mississippi River, the film’s location also plays a big part in helping to create a believable and vivid setting. From dense forests to river banks to motels alongside busy interstates, the locations aren’t anything new but still manage to feel unique, particularly Mud’s temporary home on a small island in the Mississippi. This is largely down to Adam Stone’s excellent cinematography which captures a perfect balance of the freedom of the wide open spaces and the claustrophobic interiors.

Mud might seem like a film for adults, but part of its brilliance is that it can actually be enjoyed by just about anyone. Even though the film feels somewhat separated from most people’s society and way of life, Director Jeff Nichols has created something that still feels very grounded and personal.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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46 thoughts on “Film Review: Mud

  1. jjames36 says:

    Agreed. It remains one of my favorites of 2013, out of the near 100 films I’ve seen.

  2. Mark Walker says:

    Great review Chris. I considered a 4.5 myself but knocked half a point off as I found the ending to be a little on the formulaic side. That being said, it’s still a brilliant film with fantastic performances.

    • Thanks Mark.To be honest, the ending was one of the reasons I knocked it down from a full 5/5. It was a little formulaic, I agree – if they’d been brave enough to do something a little different with the ending then it’d have been full marks from me.

  3. vinnieh says:

    Great review, I’m considering seeing this film now.

  4. theipc says:

    “McConaughey appears to have completed his transformation from rom-com laughing stock to genuinely serious actor.”

    FINALLY!!

    Nice work!

  5. I’ve never witnessed a turn around quite like this one, such magnitude. McConaughey is the hottest player out there in Hollywood right now. Loved this film, one of my top 10 for the year. Outstanding post my friend :).

  6. CMrok93 says:

    Exactly what happens when you give a very talented cast some great material that’s worth their time and effort. Good review.

  7. Still one of my films of the year. This year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild or, as you mention, Stand By Me. Charming review Chris.

  8. ruth says:

    Great review Chris! I also got the ‘Stand By Me’ vibe from this and Tye Sheridan is an impressive young actor. I LOVE Matthew’s performance here, and he’s an actor I wasn’t fond of before. But this has been quite a year for him and I’m glad that he seems to continue the streak of choosing really good roles!

    • Thank you Ruth :) I agree, i wasn’t really a fan of Matthew’s up until about 12 months ago, but I’ve now seen this, The Paperboy and Killer Joe and he’s been brilliant in all three. Looking forward to seeing how he does in Wolf of Wall Street.

  9. Smash says:

    This review just rocketed this movie to the top of my must-see list!

  10. Brittani Burnham says:

    Great review! I so agree on McConaughey’s transition. It’s pretty much complete now. I can officially say he’s a good actor in my eyes. I loved this movie. It had a lot of heart, and those kids were amazing.

  11. ckckred says:

    Nice review. Thought it was great myself. It had a real Huck Finn and Beasts of the Southern Wild feel to it.

  12. jaimielogan says:

    What are the Oscar chances for this movie in your opinion?

  13. elina says:

    Can’t wait to see it! So happy to hear the child actors are good, bad ones in important roles can really ruin a film. Great review!

  14. Gene says:

    Great review, Chris. I wasn’t near as smitten with this as it seemed many fellow bloggers were. But, you’re description and likening of it to Stand By Me really makes a lot of sense and makes me see it in a bit of a new light. Very cool, nice writing!

    • Thanks Gene! :) Sorry to hear you weren’t quite as taken with it as others. What was it that you didn’t like about it?

      • Gene says:

        I liked it just fine, just wouldn’t put it in a “best of the year” category. It just seemed very ordinary to me. No complaints on the acting or the story per-se, but I didn’t find it real compelling. I don’t know what I would’ve changed but it just seemed like a very plain story and nothing much stood out.

      • Fair enough Gene :) It’s definitely not the most involved story but it was the performances for me that really elevated it.

  15. sati says:

    So glad you liked the film, it’s one of my favorites from this year. The young actors were fantastic, but truly entire cast did beautifully. Glad you mentioned the cinematography – both that and the score really built great atmosphere.

  16. It’s my favorite coming-of-age film of the year. The acting, the setting how cool to have a boat in the tree! and the ending–all perfect. Nice review!

  17. karamelkinema says:

    I personally enjoy Mud, i’m considering this as a coming of age film than something more adult oriented. I adore the two young actor, who manage to give McConaughey a run for his money! :)

    Another great review Chris!

  18. table9mutant says:

    Great review. Well, you’ve just compared it to two films I love (The Way Way Back & especially Stand By Me) so I guess I better check it out. :-)

  19. Tom says:

    Good review Chris, as great as this was, there’s been quite a few lately that might just push this out of my top five, but it still has a very good shot of making the Top 10 of 2013 for me. McConaughey = simply amazing. This was essentially the role that made me a fan

    • Cheers man. It’s definitely gonna be up there for me and might squeeze into my top 5, but there’s plenty vying for a spot in there. Definitely top 10 though. I think a lot of people would consider themselves a fan of McConaughey now, which isn’t something I thought would happen!

  20. Nice review. I watched this, and loved this film too, last month. And blogged about it as well.
    Am yet to watch Stand by me, Killer Joe etc etc, the other films you’ve mentioned here.

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