by Gabriel “Big Gabe” Alcantara
Director Jeff Nichols and Matthew McConaughey team up to bring a pleasant coming-of-age drama that’s sure to delight many.
I saw Mud on the third day of the SXSW 2013 festival. The first day had the high profile premieres of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and Evil Dead. On the second day, I watched more independent and low key films which is what I expected to see at SXSW in the first place. Truth is, I didn’t do my research before I went to the festival. I didn’t know about half of the films I was going to see. And I liked it that way. I like going into a film blindly sometimes. Of course, that method does have its drawbacks. So when my group says that we are going to see a film called Mud starring Matthew McConaughey, all I could think of was: “I hope it’s not as f**ked up as Killer Joe”.
Thankfully, there were no real drawbacks for this pleasant little gem that originally premiered at Sundance.
The story takes place in Arkansas where two teenagers, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) set out to explore the woods. They come across a mysterious hobo named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who packs a .45 pistol and spots a white button-up shirt he is very protective of. The two boys become very fond of Mud, more so Ellis. One day, Ellis discovers Mud is a fugitive wanted by the police and bounty hunters. Turns out, Mud shot a man who hurt a woman named Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), the love of his life. Ellis and Neckbone form a pact to help Mud evade the authorities and reunite him with his true love.
The interesting thing about this film is the fact that this is more Ellis’ story than Mud’s. It’s a coming of age story where a young man is learning about life, love, friendship and courage. It’s a familiar premise (that for some reason reminds me of the film Radio Flyer) but it’s done well enough to keep the viewer interested and entertained thanks to a star making performance by Tye Sheridan as Ellis. I was invested in his character and it was enjoyable to see him get into all of his crazy adventures. Sheridan, who previously appeared in The Tree of Life, did well holding his own next to acting veteran McConaughey who also boosts a very likeable performance as well. The two had good chemistry together and their relationship was one of the driving forces of this film.
The rest of the performances were pretty spot on for the most part. Jacob Lofland who makes his feature debut as Neckbone was a personal favorite of mine. He’s a smart and tough kid, very reminiscent of River Phoenix in Stand By Me, who has some very funny one-liners in the film. Sam Shepard plays an old hermit who seems to know Mud well and acts as a guardian towards him. Mr. Shepard is enjoyable as always and commands the screen when he appears. He also has a cheer-out-loud heroic moment towards the end of the film. Everyone else is good but rather underused and makes you wonder why they would even cast such big or well known stars in such small roles. Of course, when you know people and they are willing to participate in your movie, why not? Anyway, we’ve got Reese Witherspoon as Juniper, Mud’s main squeeze. She was very good but underused because she spent most of her time crying, asking questions and carrying herself in a guarded fashion. Although she’s the reason why Mud is going through so much trouble, she really isn’t a big focus in the film. Michael Shannon plays Galen, uncle to Neckbone. He’s a womanizer and spends his time diving in the lake in search of valuables. That’s it. No, really, that’s it. Also, there’s Joe Don Baker, best known from the James Bond films The Living Daylights and Goldeneye. He plays the main boss of the bounty hunters. His role seems so small and I would have loved to see him have a more significant performance.
The film itself is enjoyable for the most part. It’s the first Jeff Nichols film I’ve seen so I don’t know how this director usually operates but I mostly enjoyed his directing style for this film. The cinematography was great and really captures the feel of the Arkansas backwoods setting perfectly as well as that genuine small town feel. The use of steadicam also adds something genuine to the storytelling and tone. Of course, based off what I read, they shot in such small and remote locations that steadicam was the only way to go.
I do have issues with the film and many would probably disagree with me but I found it to be a tad slow and too long. The running time of about 130 minutes was enough to make me notice how numb my behind was getting in my seat. I wouldn’t have minded the length if it were just a little more fast paced but the film operates like a slow burn. There are also a lot of predictable moments and cliches that I usually can look past during a coming-of-age drama but for some reason, they were just too noticeable here.
Do not get me wrong, Mud is a good film, one that should be seem by many. The story was predictable for me but I still enjoyed watching the events unfold. I am a big fan of the performances by Sheridan, McConaughey and Shepard. I also feel this film could teach some values to a new generation of film goers. I just simply didn’t find it to be all that unique or something I need to watch again. I still hope it finds an audience and makes a star out of Tye Sheridan.
My rating: 3.5 outta 5 (We Live Film score: 7 out of 10)