‘Mud’ Review

Published 1 year ago by , Updated September 3rd, 2014 at 2:57 am,

Matthew McConaughey in Mud 2013 Mud Review

Mud centers on a young boy named Ellis (Tye Sheridan), an Arkansas river-rat who spends his days exploring local waters with his river-rat friend, “Neckbone” (Jacob Lofland). One day, the boys’ curiosity leads them to a little island rock where they happen upon a boat washed up into a tree. That same boat also happens to be the temporary hideout of a drifter named Mud (Matthew McConaughey), who aks the boys for help.

Ellis and Neckbone quickly learn that Mud is wrapped up in a sordid mess involving his longtime love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), the law, and a posse of Texans looking for some payback. But even while Ellis is experiencing some life challenges of his own (at home or in the matters of teenage love), his fascination with Mud and Juniper’s tragic romance could lead to him sharing in their peril.

Mud Reviews starring Matthew McConaughey Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland Mud Review

The latest brainchild of writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), Mud is an earnest rumination on love and change, set against a unique backdrop (backwater Arkansas) and populated with a series of very well-drawn characters. Unfortunately, the film is also overblown and scattered in its telling, sacrificing some of the story’s thematic and narrative potency along the way.

Nichols, as a director, is fantastic in creating the world of the film. Mud engages a niche seldom explored on film (the dying breed of backwater river folk), and makes it into a visually captivating and fully-realized cinematic world. In fact, the first half of the film (chronicling Ellis and Neckbone’s meeting and bonding with Mud) has an almost dreamlike quality to its gorgeous iconography and mise-en-scene composition.

Jeff Nichols Mud Movie Reviews Mud Review

Tye Sheridan, Matthew McConaughey and Jacob Lofland in ‘Mud’

While the tone of the film changes in the second portion (from dreamy ideals to stark realities), many sequences and shots still carry that slightly surreal aesthetic, which heightens the intrigue and beauty of this gritty working-class limbo; even more so than his other films, Mud showcases Nichols as a sharp and artistic visual storyteller. There is also a wonderful subtext of dread running throughout the film, foreshadowing a lot of the narrative and thematic points we (eventually) arrive at. Nothing in Ellis’ world feels quite safe or stable – which adds even more intrigue and tension to early sequences when he is still feeling out his mysterious new drifter acquaintance.

On the scripting side of things, Nichols is effective at creating a cast of well-rounded and interesting characters (played by good actors), but is not as effective at steering these respective characters to their ultimate destination in a timely or efficient manner. There is a repetitive and episodic progression to the story, and not all of the players and/or moments are as crucial as the story seems to think they are.

Sam Shephard in Mud 2013 Mud Review

Sam Shephard in ‘Mud’

It takes a long time to get past some basic (and superficial) mysteries, which only reveal new (but predictable) trajectories for the respective characters. Speaking of characters: there are too many. Nichols certainly has a talent for writing three-dimensional, non-stereotypical personalities (anywhere on the good/bad spectrum), but Mud too often indulges where it doesn’t need to, pulling the viewer off onto fruitless tangents. At 130 minutes, the movie feels about 40 minutes bloated – weighing down what is otherwise a very tight and richly-layered narrative.

Characters like Neckbone’s uncle/guardian Galen (Michael Shannon) or Mud’s parent figure/guardian, Tom (Sam Shepard), are given considerable screen time – yet their characters’ relevance is periphery at best. By contrast, secondary characters like Ellis’ parents (Ray McKinnon and Sarah Paulson) actually do have relevance, but still feel somewhat extraneous in their juxtaposition to the main narrative. Character actors like Joe Don Baker (Goldeneye) and Paul Sparks (Boardwalk Empire) show up for literally one or two moments of any significance – even though they are supposed to be the main threat that drives the central plot.

Reese Witherspoon in Mud 2013 Mud Review

Reese Witherspoon in ‘Mud’

Even Juniper amounts to little more than a plot device. Though Witherspoon turns in an impressively drab performance (as opposed to her usual cutesy persona), “June” is just another addition to the story that we never have time to really delve into. The same could be argued for Mud, a character so mysterious and ethereal that at first he hardly seems real. McConaughey continues his trend of smart role choices and delivers a great performance – balancing Mud in a tricky space between likability and menace - but again, there is more implied about the character and his complexity than the film actually explores.

What really holds Mud together are the central performances by young Tye Sheridan and debut actor Jacob Lofland. From the onset, the film establishes that these are not your stereotypical backwater hick teens, and the rest of the film certainly supports that, investing in exploring the depth and complexity of the two young men as they (primary Ellis) are coming of age in a most unorthodox way.

Mud Movie Review 2013 Mud Review

Sheridan is extremely impressive, with a face and eyes that house sharp intelligence and self-awareness when it comes to playing a scene. By contrast, Lofland has attitude, witty timing and sheer charisma that makes him totally fun to watch. Together, the pair have chemistry that make them a strong protagonist team, and many of their interactions with McConaughey are downright priceless. Thanks to its young leads, Mud walks the line between childhood and adulthood in a manner as resonant and entertaining as a film like Stand By Me.

However, as stated, this film isn’t simply about its two young leads (though at the same time, it is very much Ellis’ story). The overstuffed nature of the proceedings admittedly makes the film drag too often, and there are subplots (such as Ellis’ girlfriend troubles) that, while charming or interesting in the moment, are ultimately detrimental to the overall coherence of the film.

Mud is worthy viewing if you’re looking for a wonderfully strange indie folk tale – but be ready to invest the stamina needed to pull through the slower segments.

Watch the trailer if you’re still on the fence:

517667837 cv1 620 439 Mud Review

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Mud is now playing in theaters. It is 130 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for for some violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5
(Very Good)

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TAGS: mud

14 Comments

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  1. Man i would have to drive 2 and a half hours to see this film

    • How bad do you wanna see it?

      If a film captures your interest, it shouldn’t matter how long it takes to get there.

      Swap the word “film” for “person” and I just came up with a romantic movie cliche line.

      • I really do but when you are on unemployment do to your theater being closed until next month money is a bit tight for the trip lol

        • It must double hurt when you’re that interlinked to your entertainment… :(

  2. I loved this movie. It was brilliant and Matthew McConaughey has done some of the best work in his life over the past two years, with this being one of them.

    • he was great in killer joe. if anyone is debating on that one, i recommend it. dazed and confused is still his best work, imo.

      • Killer Joe is a very odd movie one that I enjoyed but wouldn’t recommend do to how it plays out.

  3. Kofi do you believe this could be the Beast of The Southern Wild of this year? It has a lot of buzz behind it and is holding a 98% in rotten tomato which is rather insane. Some believe take shelter was snubbed at least Michael Shannon’s performance in it. What do you think?

  4. I saw this movie over the weekend and I must say this is by far the best I’ve seen McConaughey do. The movie was just excellent and powerful.

  5. I saw this movie last week and I loved it. It felt like a classic Southern coming-of-age boys adventure, with echoes of Mark Twain, and it was made with great care and feeling. It also managed to capture a particular time and place perfectly. As mentioned in Kofi’s review the performances, particularly the central trio of the boys and McConaughey, were expertly done.

    One counterpoint I would provide to this review is on the subject of the many characters – in my view this was not a weakness but a strength. They reinforced some of the story’s key themes and added flavour to the narrative, not to mention highlighted the movie’s roots in the type of classic Southern American fiction that thrives on a cast of colorful supporting characters.

    I’d highly recommend people check Mud out. For those interested, I have some more detailed thoughts at the link below:

    http://bit.ly/13WwMTi

  6. Just got done seeing this and thought it was fantastic. I never thought the film dragged at all, but, it could have been trimmed by about 10-15 mins. This along with Place Beyond the Pines are the best films I have seen this year.

  7. Thank you for this review. I feel the exact same way. With all the ‘brilliants’ and ‘movie of the years’ I thought I was missing something.

  8. For full review: http://youngthespian42films.blogspot.com/2013/06/mud.html

    skinny: Mud is a must see. McConaughey gives an Oscar-worthy performance that is rivaled by Tye Sheridan struggling teenager. The setting is transformative and you will feel like you have been transported into a world you didn’t know existed along the Mississippi. The movie throws every genre you can think of at you and succeeds in pulling all of them off without seeming cheap or shallow. Jeff Nichols is a force to reckoned with and I cannot wait for his next project. Mud is my second real contender for my top 10 this year (Spring Breakers being my first). I guarantee you this story and the heart of this movie will stick with you much longer than spectacle that is Iron Man 3 or The Lone Ranger.

  9. I really did not enjoy this movie at all. Utterly boring.

    Yes, it’s a character driven movie, but Mud’s character was just abysmally boring.

    Mud is not a ‘must see’. It’s a ‘must pass’. Don’t waste your time.